Congo opposition leaders call for protest on inauguration day

KINSHASA (Reuters) -Two of the main opposition candidates in Democratic Republic of Congo’s December presidential election have called for a protest this Saturday, when President Felix Tshisekedi is due to be sworn in for a second term.

Tshisekedi and his party won the Dec. 20-24 general election by a landslide, but the vote was marred by widespread allegations of fraud, logistical shortcomings and disruptions.

The fallout threatens to further destabilise Congo, the world’s third-largest copper producer and the top producer of cobalt, a key component in electric car batteries.

The two opposition leaders, Martin Fayulu and Moise Katumbi, as well as others have called for a re-run – a demand authorities have dismissed.

“We are having a protest on Jan. 20 because we will not accept the results, there was fraud everywhere and the elections must be annulled,” said Katumbi in an online press briefing.

The protests would be held in the capital Kinshasa and the second-largest city Lubumbashi, Katumbi said.

Separately, Congo’s powerful Catholic bishops’ conference on Thursday issued a statement saying the election was “a catastrophe” and that “our country is in danger”.

“We discovered a considerable number of parallel votes with voting machines found in private homes,” said the statement from the bishop’s conference, CENCO, which ran the largest election observation mission throughout the country.

The statement levelled harsh criticism at Congo’s national electoral commission, the CENI, saying it should question its role in the situation.

The electoral commission has repeatedly rejected allegations of fraud.

Police dispersed a small protest in Kinshasa on Tuesday against the provisional results of the legislative election, which showed Tshisekedi’s UDPS party won 69 seats in parliament, placing it ahead of more than 40 other parties.

(Reporting by Ange Kasongo and Sonia RolleyWriting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Frances Kerry and Alex Richardson)