DEMOCRATIC Republic of Congo opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi — besieged in his Kinshasa home by heavily armed security forces — swore a makeshift presidential oath on Friday as police battled in the streets outside with his stone-throwing supporters.
President Joseph Kabila was officially inaugurated on December 20 to a new term as head of the vast central African state, after winning a disputed November 28 election that Tshisekedi derided as fraudulent.
Kabila’s inauguration earlier this week was held at a heavily guarded compound near the banks of the Congo River, and was attended by only one foreign head of state, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
“We are one with them (Congolese) as they celebrate the victory and his party and having won, and won thunderously against Tshisekedi. He has won a democratic election,” the Zimbabwean leader said.
“This must send a clear message to those who had other ideas. Any attempt to undermine that democratic Government will be resisted by Africa, SADC and Zimbabwe which has been a partner to the Congolese people.”
“We consider (Tshisekedi has) been sworn in,” said Remy Masamba, a spokesman for Tshisekedi’s UDPS party. “I am sure that shortly he will communicate how the institutions will work and how the country will be run.”
A top Kabila adviser called the move a “political farce” and said Tshisekedi could face charges.
“Anyone who makes pantomime politics and declares himself president will have to face the law of the land. We will not tolerate someone disturbing the peace and thinking his dreams are reality,” Congo’s ambassador to London, Kikaya Bin Karubi, told Reuters by telephone.
Tshisekedi had been seeking to hold the rival inauguration at a Kinshasa stadium, but security forces blocked the area around his house and also deployed tanks and the Republican Guard to the stadium.
Outside the stadium, hundreds of Tshisekedi supporters in small groups threw rocks at security forces before being pushed into backstreets by teargas. Police arrested dozens of people in street battles but there was no sign of serious injuries, a Reuters witness said.
Tshisekedi disputes the re-election of Kabila, saying the vote was fraudulent. International observers have also criticised the election for procedural chaos and irregularities.
Congo is a major producer of cobalt, copper, gold and diamonds. The election was the second since a 1998-2003 war that killed more than 5 million people, and was meant to shore up the country’s fragile gains in stability.
Congo’s chief of police, Charles Bisengimana, said the UDPS party had not been granted permission to hold the protest and that security forces were attempting to keep the peace.
“We received no notification of a protest from UDPS so police are maintaining public order so people can go about their business,” Bisengimana said.
Police had sealed off the area around Tshisekedi’s residence from early morning, preventing anyone from leaving or entering the area.
Altough Ambassadors from the United States, France and the United Kingdom attended Kabila’s in auguration, Washington and the European Union had rapped Congo’s Supreme Court for ratifying Kabila’s victory without fully addressing evidence of irregularities.
The U.S.-based Carter Center observer mission said some results from Kabila strongholds showed impossibly high turnout and support for Kabila, while some results from Tshisekedi bastions were missing.
Human Rights Watch has said more than 40 people have been killed in election-related violence. The government has disputed the claim, citing a lack of evidence.