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Congo inauguration postponed; police stop opposition rally

January 21, 2019
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FILE - This Nov. 23, 2018, file photo shows Felix Tshisekedi of Congo's Union for Democracy and Social Progress opposition party, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Congo's Constitutional Court early Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, declared the election of Tshisekedi as president, rejecting challenges to the vote by runner-up Martin Fayulu, who had alleged fraud. Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is now set to be inaugurated on Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo’s police dispersed a gathering Monday of supporters waiting to hear a speech by presidential runner-up Martin Fayulu, his spokeswoman said.

Dozens of people gathered outside his coalition’s headquarters in Kinshasa before police arrived and canceled the event, said Eve Bazaiba.

“Our headquarters (HQ) was besieged, our activists began to gather, we began to climb the podium on which our leader should speak, and the police came and took the podium and the speakers,” she said, adding that police had also blocked the entrance and exit gates at the headquarters.

She dismissed calls by declared president-elect Felix Tshisekedi to work together for reconstruction of Congo.

“We cannot work together in irregularities,” she said. “We cannot build on falsehoods ... we want to know the truth of the ballot box first.”

The Constitutional Court on early Sunday refused Fayulu’s request for a vote recount and reaffirmed the victory of Tshisekedi in the presidential race, saying he received 38 percent of the vote, while Fayulu received 34 percent.

In his legal challenge, Fayulu said he won 60 percent of the vote according to leaked commission results. The 40,000-member Catholic Church observation mission also affirmed that results from polling stations showed that Fayulu was the clear winner. But the court said that Fayulu didn’t provide evidence proving his claim.

Rejecting the court’s decision, Fayulu declared that he is Congo’s “only legitimate president” and called for the Congolese people to peacefully protest what he called a “constitutional coup d’etat.”

Congo’s government has called Fayulu’s statements “a shame,” and irresponsible.

“We want the truth of the polls, they stole Fayulu’s victory,” said Jacques Nzita, a Fayulu supporter who was outside his headquarters to hear him speak.

Fayulu on Monday called on African presidents to listen to the voice of Congo people.

“To African presidents who demand the Congolese to respect the Constitutional Court decision, I ask you to respect the sovereign decision of the Congolese people who elected me president with more than 60 percent,” he tweeted. “Don’t encourage fraud, lies and forgery.”

The African Union, which had noted “serious doubts” about the vote and made an unprecedented request for Congo to delay the final results, postponed its urgent mission to Congo planned for Monday.

Congo is on the brink of its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s inauguration, which was planned for Tuesday, is now postponed, government spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press. He didn’t give reasons for the delay, but said it will likely take place Thursday.

France’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said it took note of the victory of Tshisekedi, as proclaimed Jan. 19 by the court, and said it would be represented by its ambassador at the inauguration.

“This election permitted Congolese people to express with force and calm their desire for alteration. We hope that the new president will respond to it and call on him to continue the dialogue with all the actors in the country to achieve this,” the statement said.

Also Monday, RFI, CCTV and the television station for opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba came back on the air after being cut two days after December elections. Internet, also cut before the election, had slowly returned in recent days.

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AP writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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