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BREAKING NEWS

African leaders back Congo president-elect after contested poll

African leaders back Congo president-elect after contested poll
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By Stanis Bujakera

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's president elect Felix Tshisekedi received a chorus of congratulations from African leaders on Sunday and Monday in a growing sign that his disputed election win will not be questioned internationally.

Regional support is crucial for Tshisekedi after a disorganised election on Dec. 30 that runner-up candidate Martin Fayulu says was rigged and that Congo's Catholic Church contested. Many worry that outgoing president Joseph Kabila will continue to hold sway, limiting Tshisekedi's power.

The new president will be the first to take power through an election since Congo's independence in 1960, when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was toppled in a coup after less than three months in office. Congolese and their neighbours are anxious that the process remain peaceful in a country that has drawn regional armies into its civil wars over the decades.

International allies and neighbours had struggled to come to a consensus after the poll that observers said was marred by a series of irregularities including malfunctioning voting machines and polling stations that opened late or closed early.

In a surprise statement last week, the African Union asked for the final results to be postponed because of "serious doubts" over the conduct of the election, raising fears that a protracted dispute could fan unrest in the volatile country of 80 million people.

But since the Constitutional Court early on Sunday rejected Fayulu's complaint and backed Tshisekedi's victory, opposition to the vote appears to have softened. Tshisekedi is expected to be sworn in on Jan. 24.

CONGRATULATIONS

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa congratulated Tshisekedi on Monday and in a statement "called on all parties and all stakeholders in the DRC to respect the decision of the Constitutional Court".

The presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi congratulated Tshisekedi in a series of Tweets on Sunday, echoing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - a bloc that includes South Africa and Angola - which also called for the transition of power to remain peaceful, backing off from earlier calls for a recount.

The AU has yet to comment since it noted the court's decision. It postponed a visit by a high-level delegation to Kinshasa that had been scheduled for Monday.

Fayulu says Tshisekedi and outgoing President Joseph Kabila made a deal to cheat him out of a more than 60-percent win - an accusation they both deny.

On Monday he asked African leaders to "respect the sovereign decision of the Congolese people who elected me president".

"Last week we had seen a risk of foreign intervention, if the heads of neighbouring states backed Mr Fayulu in a protracted dispute. Now that most of them have accepted Mr Tshisekedi’s win, the risk looks somewhat lower," said research firm NKC African Economics in a statement on Monday.

Police in the capital Kinshasa blocked access to the headquarters of a party in Fayulu's Lamuka coalition, where he had intended to gather supporters and protest against the confirmation of Tshisekedi's victory.

Lamuka spokeswoman Eve Bazaiba told Reuters the building had been besieged and protesters dispersed, forcing Fayulu to abandon his plans.

Some Congolese hoped Fayulu would accept defeat in the interest of peace.

"He (Fayulu) needs to let it go. Going to the Constitutional Court and all that is just creating problems and for me it's a waste of time," said Kinshasa resident Patricia Mokabi.

"We are all Congolese, we are together whether it is Felix or Fayulu, they can work together."

Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders told local media he would have preferred the process to be more transparent, and the verification of results to be more open.

Western countries also initially expressed doubt about the preliminary vote count. Since Tshisekedi's victory was confirmed, their responses have been more muted than those of countries in the region.

France said on Monday it had "taken note" of Tshisekedi's victory and that it would be sending its ambassador to the swearing in ceremony. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said at a press conference that the EU would take a position after meeting with the AU on Monday.

Russia's foreign ministry noted the historical importance of the electoral transfer of power: "We consider these elections a milestone in the political life of the DRC."

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Edward McAllister and Peter Graff)

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