Mil­i­tary per­son­nel sent to pro­tect US in­ter­ests in Congo

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.c. - BY MATHILDE BOUS­SION

On the eve of the first ex­pected re­sults of Congo’s long-de­layed pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said mil­i­tary per­son­nel had de­ployed to Cen­tral Africa to pro­tect U.S. as­sets from pos­si­ble “vi­o­lent de­mon­stra­tions,” while the coun­try’s pow­er­ful Catholic church warned of a pop­u­lar “upris­ing” if un­true re­sults are an­nounced.

Congo faces what could be its first demo­cratic, peace­ful trans­fer of power since in­de­pen­dence from Bel­gium in 1960, but elec­tion ob­servers and the op­po­si­tion have raised con­cerns about vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties as the coun­try chooses a suc­ces­sor to long­time Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila.

The first re­sults are ex­pected on Sun­day, and the United States and the African Union, among oth­ers, have urged Congo to re­lease re­sults that re­flect the true will of the peo­ple. The U.S. has threat­ened sanc­tions against those who un­der­mine the demo­cratic process. Western elec­tion ob­servers were not in­vited to watch the vote.

While Congo has been largely calm on and af­ter the Dec. 30 vote, Trump’s let­ter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about 80 mil­i­tary per­son­nel and “ap­pro­pri­ate com­bat equip­ment” had de­ployed to nearby Gabon to sup­port the se­cu­rity of U.S. cit­i­zens and staffers and diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties. More will de­ploy as needed to Gabon, Congo or neigh­bor­ing Repub­lic of Congo, he wrote.

The U.S. ahead of the vote or­dered “non-emer­gency” gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and fam­ily mem­bers to leave the coun­try.

The Catholic church, an in­flu­en­tial voice in the heav­ily Catholic na­tion, caused sur­prise on Thurs­day by an­nounc­ing that data re­ported by its 40,000 elec­tion ob­servers de­ployed in all polling sta­tions show a clear win­ner. As reg­u­la­tions say only the elec­toral com­mis­sion can an­nounce elec­tion re­sults, the church did not give a name.

The elec­toral com­mis­sion on Fri­day said the church’s an­nounce­ment could in­cite an upris­ing. The church on Sat­ur­day, in a let­ter to the com­mis­sion seen by The As­so­ci­ated Press, replied that re­leas­ing un­true re­sults could cause the upris­ing in­stead.

Congo’s rul­ing party, which backs Ka­bila’s pre­ferred can­di­date Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary, has called the church’s at­ti­tude “ir­re­spon­si­ble and an­ar­chist.”

Lead­ing op­po­si­tion can­di­date Mar­tin Fayulu, a busi­ness­man and law­maker, has ac­cused Con­golese au­thor­i­ties of im­ped­ing his cam­paign. His cam­paign man­ager, Pierre Lumbi, on Sat­ur­day ac­cused the elec­toral com­mis­sion of be­ing “in the process of post­pon­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of the re­sults.”

The com­mis­sion’s rap­por­teur, Jean-Pierre Kalamba, said “we will see to­mor­row” and that 44 per­cent of the re­sults had been com­piled.

At stake is a vast coun­try rich in the min­er­als that power the world’s mo­bile phones and lap­tops, yet des­per­ately un­der­de­vel­oped. About 40 mil­lion peo­ple were reg­is­tered to vote, though at the last minute some 1 mil­lion vot­ers were barred as the elec­toral com­mis­sion cited a deadly Ebola virus out­break. Crit­ics said that un­der­mines the elec­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity.

The vote took place more than two years be­hind sched­ule, while a court ruled that Ka­bila could stay in of­fice un­til the vote was held. The de­lay led to some­times deadly protests as au­thor­i­ties cracked down.

JEROME DE­LAY AP

In Kin­shasa, Congo, mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion coali­tion La­muka, led by pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mar­tin Faluyu, await a state­ment Sat­ur­day re­gard­ing elec­tion re­sults. Elec­tion ob­servers and the op­po­si­tion have raised con­cerns about vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

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