Kinshasa - DRC was on edge ahead of the announcement of last week’s election results with observers warning the conflict-prone country could descend into chaos no matter who is declared the winner.
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila was ahead in early partial results for the November 28 polls but his main rival Etienne Tshisekedi issued thinly-veiled threats of violence if the trend was not reversed.
The tension in the vast central African country spilled over into the Congolese diaspora in South Africa, where Tshisekedi supporters clashed with police and tried to storm their embassy.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) was due to announce provisional results on Tuesday, after partial tallies - mainly from Kabila strongholds - showed the incumbent edging his rival by 49 to 34%.
"With hours to go until the CENI publishes the provisional results, Kinshasa seems to be sleeping on a volcano that is ready to have an apocalyptic eruption," commented L’Observateur, a pro-ruling coalition newspaper.
On Saturday, veteran politician Tshisekedi made a veiled threat to Kabila and CENI chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, warning them to “respect the will of the Congolese people… If they don’t, they risk committing suicidal acts.”
"I call all our people to stay vigilant so that if needed they can execute the orders I will give them," said the challenger, a prime minister-turned-opponent of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Tshisekedi, who calls his supporters fighters, raised global concern and condemnation during the campaign when he called on his partisans to break into the country’s prisons and free their comrades.
The International Crisis Group has put the country on its “conflict risk alert” together with Syria, citing clashes in Kinshasa on the eve of the polls, deadly rebel attacks in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi on voting day, and a call from several opposition candidates for the vote to be annulled.
Human Rights Watch has said at least 18 civilians have already died in election-related violence from November 26 to 28, most of them shot dead by Kabila’s presidential guard in Kinshasa. The government says it has launched an inquiry into the report.
The tense climate drove more than 3 000 people to leave Kinshasa at the weekend for Brazzaville, the capital of neighbouring Congo, which sits about four kilometres across the Congo River, an immigration official said on Sunday.
The number was higher than usual, but Congo-Brazzaville Interior Minister Raymond Zephirin Mboulou said it was not a crisis situation.
In Johannesburg, police fired rubber bullets to break up a group of demonstrators gathered in front of the ruling ANC party headquarters to protest South Africa’s alleged involvement in fraud in the Congo election, the local Sapa agency reported.
"They carried posters saying President Jacob Zuma should stay out of Congolese affairs,” Sapa reported, in reference to reports that definitive results of the contentious vote could be released in South Africa.
"Zuma has organised fraud in our election," one of the protesters, Mondeor Mwela, said.
In Pretoria, protesters tried to storm the DRC embassy, breaking windows and tearing down a gate.