FILE - This Nov. 23, 2018, file photo shows Felix Tshisekedi of Congo's Union for Democracy and Social Progress opposition party, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Congo's Constitutional Court early Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, declared the election of Tshisekedi as president, rejecting challenges to the vote by runner-up Martin Fayulu, who had alleged fraud. Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is now set to be inaugurated on Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Congo's court upholds election victory of Felix Tshisekedi

January 20, 2019 - 6:44 am

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's residents headed to church Sunday and the capital was calm after the Constitutional Court confirmed the presidential victory of Felix Tshisekedi and runner-up Martin Fayulu called for non-violent protests against the ruling.

Tshisekedi said early Sunday that the court's decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.

"It is Congo that won," said Tshisekedi, speaking to his supporters after the court decision. "It is not the victory of one camp against another. I am engaged in a campaign to reconcile all Congolese. ... The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security."

Supporters of his UDPS party celebrated the victory into the early morning hours, parading through the capital's streets.

But Fayulu's declaration that he is Congo's "only legitimate president" and call for the Congolese people to peacefully protest against what he called a "constitutional coup d'etat" threatened to keep the country in a political crisis that has been simmering since the Dec. 30 elections.

Fayulu's court challenge alleged an extraordinary backroom deal by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favor of Tshisekedi.

The court in the early hours of Sunday, however, said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed to the electoral commission. It also called unfounded another challenge filed by Fayulu that objected to the electoral commission's last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters from the election over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

"It's a secret for no one inside or outside of our country that you have elected me president," with 60 percent of the votes, Fayulu said in his statement. "I now consider myself the only legitimate president of the DRC."

Fayulu urged Congolese to take to the streets to peacefully protest. Neither Congolese nor the international community should recognize Tshisekedi, nor obey him, Fayulu added.

Congo's government on Sunday called Fayulu's statements "irresponsible."

"We consider it an irresponsible statement that is highly politically immature. I do not think he has understood the issues that are happening and at the regional level and at the global level with the Democratic Republic of Congo and that's a shame," government spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The largely untested Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 22. The government is expected to resign in the coming days, and the new National Assembly will be installed on Jan. 26 with a small group of members who will then validate the 500 deputies, the majority of whom belong to Kabila's Common Front for Congo party.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza promptly congratulated the new president-elect in a Tweet on Sunday.

"Through a fully organized electoral process without outside influence and the wisdom of President Kabila, the #RDC has just defended its dignity and sovereignty. The #Burundi congratulates the elected President, HE Félix A. Tshisekedi and the step taken by the Congolese people," he said.

Although the election results are disputed, Congo, a country of 80 million people, rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world, is moving close to its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Reflecting the yearning for stability, 33 Congolese non-governmental groups and civil society movements on Thursday called on people to comply with whatever the court rules to "preserve the peace."

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AP writer Carley Petesch contributed from Dakar, Senegal.

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