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Congo cuts internet for second day to avert 'chaos' before poll results

Congo cuts internet for second day to avert 'chaos' before poll results
A woman carries her baby as she casts her vote at a polling station during the presidential election in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 30, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner -
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BAZ RATNER(Reuters)
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By Stanis Bujakera and Fiston Mahamba

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's government cut internet connections and SMS services across the country for a second straight day on Tuesday as the country nervously awaited the first results from the weekend's chaotic presidential election.

Both the opposition and ruling coalition said on Monday they were on track to win after a turbulent election day on Sunday in which many Congolese were unable to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, conflict and logistical problems.

Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to President Joseph Kabila, said internet and SMS services were cut to preserve public order after "fictitious results" began circulating on social media.

"That could lead us straight towards chaos," Kikaya told Reuters, adding the connections would remain cut until the publication of complete results on Jan. 6.

The signal to Radio France Internationale (RFI), one of the most popular news sources in Congo, was also down, and the government withdrew the accreditation of RFI's main correspondent in Congo late on Monday for having aired unofficial results from the opposition.

The various moves reflected high tensions in Congo, where the long-delayed election was meant to choose a successor to Kabila, who is due to step down next month after 18 years in power - and two years after the official end of his mandate.

Congo has never seen a democratic transfer of power, and any disputed outcome could lead to a repeat of the violence that followed the 2006 and 2011 elections and a wider security breakdown in its volatile eastern provinces.

The opposition says the election was marred by fraud and accused Kabila of planning to rule from the sidelines through his preferred candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The government said the election was fair.

In the eastern city of Goma, residents were on edge as they awaited the first partial results, which could come as soon as later on Tuesday.

"If the results during the publication of the presidential results don't reflect the truth ... trouble will break out across the city," said Fabrice Shweka, a Goma resident.

In Sunday's poll, Shadary faced off against two main opposition challengers, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu.

In a statement late on Monday, Fayulu complained about irregularities during Sunday's vote but said he was encouraged by the determination of Congolese to vote despite long queues and voting machines that broke down.

"I call for vigilance across the board and the general mobilisation of all Congolese so that the truth of the ballot box, the sole witness to the will of the Congolese people, can reward their efforts and sacrifices," he said.

(Additional reporting and writing By Aaron Ross, Editing by William Maclean)

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