USA sends troops ahead of possible Congo election protests

The count is underway after Sunday's vote to determine who succeeds Joseph Kabila as president after his 18 years in power. AFP  File  Luis TATO

DR Congo's powerful Roman Catholic Church has said it knows who has won the vote and urged the electoral commission to publish the "truth".

Donatien Nshole, the secretary-general of the Church's bishops' conference, known as CENCO, said on Thursday its vote tallies showed a clear victor in the December 30 election, a pronouncement widely seen as a warning to authorities against rigging the vote.

The elections had been delayed several times by longtime President Joseph Kabila, who said voters had not yet been registered. It has not had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.

The government has also cut Internet access until the poll results are announced, saying this is a necessary measure to prevent the spread of fake news. "This is one of those moments for the DRC", US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. On Friday, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the Congo.

The French public-service broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI) which has a huge following in DRC said its correspondent Florence Morice was forced to leave the country on Thursday night, after having her accreditation revoked.

Authorities have blocked the internet in the Congo until the provisional results are made known.

Kabila's two-term mandate officially expired in 2016.

He invoked a caretaker clause in the constitution to stay on but at the cost of protests that his forces ruthlessly crushed, leading to scores of deaths.

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A total of 21 candidates including Kabila's handpicked successor, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, are vying for the presidency.

Attempts by authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to crack down on dissent during tense vote counting could "backfire", the United Nations said Friday, warning it was "watching carefully" as events unfold.

We strongly urge the CENI to ensure that votes are counted in a transparent and open manner, with observers present, and that the results reported by CENI are accurate and correspond to results announced at each of DRC's 75,000 polling stations.

Opposition candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi have accused the government of widespread irregularities, however.

Congo's election commission is scolding the Catholic church for saying its data show a clear victor in Sunday's presidential election, asserting that the announcement could incite an "uprising".

"We are working around the clock".

The electoral commission's president said it had collected results from about 20 per cent of polling stations, while some Congolese expressed doubt that the first results would be released on Sunday as expected.

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