Congo election: Felix Tshisekedi declared victor in contentious result

Delaying of DRC election results announcement increases likelihood of extension of president's mandate to March

Congo braces for election results after commission meets overnight

"The delay in releasing the results of the elections can lead to suspicions and compromise the peace and stability of the country", President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zambian counterpart Edgar Lungu said in a joint statement.

Any widespread perception the election has been stolen could set off a destabilizing cycle of unrest, particularly in the volatile eastern borderlands where Fayulu enjoyed some of his strongest support.

However, runner-up Martin Fayulu, who is also an opposition candidate, has described it as an "electoral coup".

Fayulu received more than 6 million votes, or 34 per cent.

The announcement of a victory by opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu (who the Catholic Church has indicated was the winner) is unlikely, but would pose high risks of looting by military elements and a coup attempt in Kinshasa.

Mr Fayulu said the "Congolese people already know" the result of the vote, which took place on 30 December. SYMOCEL, a group of Congolese civil society organizations which deployed 20,000 election observers, said in a report on Tuesday there had been major irregularities at the results-compilation centers, with numerous cases registered in Shadary's home province of Maniema.

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The latest developments add to a broader snapshot of disarray and questionable practices in the long-overdue vote to succeed President Joseph Kabila.

The election outcome was initially expected to be announced on Sunday - and results are now expected later on Wednesday.

Scores of people in the capital, Kinshasa, danced after the election results were announced long after midnight, but observers waited to see how other Congolese would respond.

Earlier Thursday the country's electoral commission presented a delayed provisional count, naming Tshisekedi the victor with 38.57 per cent of the vote.

But on Tuesday, the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said the panel hoped to complete the count within 48 hours. He said the delay is to "fudge the results" and warned that his coalition would release its own figures if the official ones are in doubt.

It "may be a message that the publication (of the results) won't meet the expectations of the Congolese people", resident John Kabamba said. The Constitutional Court would make a final ruling on the outcome within nine days of the commission's announcement.

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Tshisekedi's victory was greeted by celebrations at the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the country's oldest and largest opposition party which was founded by his late father, Etienne, a former minister under the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko who then became an opposition leader and a thorn in Mobutu's side for years.

Analysts are now looking to the verdict of the influential body representing Congo's Catholic bishops that said January 3 that results gathered at polling stations on election day by its 40,000-strong observation mission showed which candidate had won, without naming the person.

They would be deployed if needed to protect United States citizens and diplomatic facilities in DR Congo's capital, Kinshasa, he said.

The candidate backed by Kabila, hardline former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came in a distant third with just 23.8 percent.

He took over from his assassinated father Laurent in 2001.

He was barred from running for another term under the constitution, and was supposed to step down two years ago, but the election was postponed after the electoral commission said it needed more time to register voters.

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