Catholic church offers mediation in disputed Congo elections

In late December Etienne Tshisekedi, a prominent opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, swore he would faithfully serve as the nation’s president.

But earlier in the month, the election commission stated that he had lost.

Government officials dismissed the 79-year-old's self-appointed victory, saying his inauguration was illegitimate and an “insult to oath taking," according to Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile Radio France International was cut off, as it broadcast news about the planning of Tshisekedi's swearing-in ceremony.

Three days earlier the official winner, incumbent President Joseph Kabila, had taken office.

This left Congo with two men claiming to be president. And while Tshisekedi’s swearing-in may have seemed like a wild move from far away, many of his supporters at home believed that the election was rigged, and he was claiming his rightful title.

Now, as tensions rise in the run-up to the final parliamentary results, the Catholic Church in Congo has stepped in and offered to negotiate, according to Voice of America.

The Catholic bishops of Congo concluded that there had been “serious errors” in the elections, and called upon the election commission to re-evaluate the results. The church did not declare a win for either side.

“Unfortunately, we can’t say whether it was Kabila or it was Tshisekedi,” Father Abbot Leonard Santedi, secretary-general of the conference told VOA. “We have found so many irregularities so that we asked the government to see what position they can take to fix the irregularities and what way they can follow to make dialogue with the opposition.”

Human Rights Watch reports at least 40 deaths in election-related violence before and after the disputed vote. In the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, protests against the results were squashed immediately, with opposition supporters reporting beatings, and arrests.

Riot police and soldiers swarmed the streets for hours after the protests broke up, and the mayor, Jean Busanga, said anti-government protests are not welcome in Goma, a small city still reeling from decades of conflict, natural disasters and abject poverty.

“I appeared on state radio on Sunday, warning people not to attend the unauthorized demonstration, which many feared would end in violence,” he said in his Goma office a few days after Kabila was declared the winner.

And while the Congolese people await the final results that will name 500 parliament members from about 18,000 candidates, Kabila and Tshisekedi continue to operate under the assumption that they are each the legitimate leader of Congo.

Preliminary parliamentary results are expected to be released Wednesday, while the final results will be published January 26, according to VOA.

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