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Congo ruling party, opposition running neck and neck in legislative races
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) ' Three Cabinet ministers allied to the president have lost their parliament seats, according to partial results from Congo's legislative elections that show the ruling party taking losses but still in the lead.
If the trend holds and the opposition makes substantial gains, it could change the political landscape of Congo, which effectively has been under one-man rule since its independence from Belgium in 1960, with a rubber-stamp parliament in recent years.
Congo's electoral commission also announced Wednesday night that it has restarted the suspended count of legislative ballots in the absence of U.S. and British observers who are supposed to help ensure transparency.
That could further fuel the cases being taken to the commission over the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative balloting that was marred by violence and fraud. Fourteen electoral officers have been arrested for alleged fraud and manipulation of vote counts, the electoral commission said Wednesday.
Incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared the winner by the country's Supreme Court and inaugurated last week despite the fraud condemned by the international community. Observers have said it is not clear who won the vote in this mineral-rich country impoverished by decades of dictatorship and civil war.
Human rights and civil society groups have condemned the international community for not doing more to uphold Congo's young democracy. The European Union has threatened to halt aid if there is no improvement in the counting of the legislative ballots, leading Kabila to invite the U.S. and British experts.
Congolese security forces have shot at and detained people attempting to protest Kabila's re-election. Human Rights Watch said last week that at least 24 people have been killed in such attacks to quell dissent.
The New York-based group said many more may have been killed since security forces appear to be quickly removing bodies to cover up the scale of the killings.
Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi also has declared himself the winner of the presidential election and attempted to hold his own inauguration at a Kinshasa stadium before being stopped by security forces.
Tshisekedi's party said Tuesday that seven more of its supporters were killed by security forces on Friday and 540 detained to prevent the opposition leader holding his inauguration. Tshisekedi later held a ceremony in the back yard of his home.
Police chief Gen. Charles Bisengimana said no one was killed Friday and that police fired only tear gas.
The November elections were the first contested by Tshisekedi, a veteran 79-year-old politician who had opposed Congo's dictatorship since the 1980s and who boycotted the 2006 ballot that was the first democratic election in nearly half a century. That left a bunch of former warlords as the front-runners.
Then, Tshisekedi also urged his supporters not to register to vote, a decision that still haunts the party since parliament seats were allocated according to the number of registered voters, so Tshisekedi strongholds are represented by fewer legislators.
The partial and provisional results announced Wednesday include only 101 of the 500 parliament seats, and none of the major cities in the country that sprawls across Central Africa and covers an area larger than Western Europe. The results have been compiled from only 40 of the 1,469 counting centers. Some 19,000 candidates stood for election.
They gave the presidential party 23 seats to 14 for Tshisekedi's party, with the rest going to small parties.
In the current parliament, Kabila's party holds 111 seats but a coalition of parties supporting him holds another 220. Opposition parties have 170 seats, a third of them belonging to the party of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord and deputy president who awaits charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague.
Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Johannesburg.