|Opposition parties have made gains in the legislative election which could shift the DRC's political landscape [Reuters]
Partial results from the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) legislative elections show three cabinet ministers in the ruling party have lost their seats in parliament.
The president's ruling party was seen running neck-to-neck with the opposition following November's presidential and legislative ballot, which was marred by fraud and violence.
The electoral commission announced results on Wednesday night for a fifth of the 500-seat parliament for which about 19,000 candidates competed.
President Joseph Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi's parties took an equal number of seats.
DRC's electoral commission (CENI) also announced on Wednesday that it had restarted the suspended count of legislative ballots in the absence of US and British observers who are supposed to help ensure transparency.
That could further fuel the cases being taken to the commission over the November 28 balloting.
CENI had announced last week it was suspending the publication of provisional results trickling in from across the vast nation to await the arrival of US and British experts meant to guarantee the tally's transparency.
"We have to work together to avoid the incomprehension" that prevailed when the first results for the controversial presidential poll were released, Jacques Djoli, CENI vice chairman, said.
It then lifted the suspension on Wednesday, adding to the confusion among a population still baffled by the swearing-in ceremony of Tshisekedi - who proclaimed himself the people's president after the vote - which was organised in the backyard of his private home last week.
The fiery 79-year-old opposition leader had been prevented from staging a rival inauguration in Kinshasa's main stadium by police stopping his supporters with tear gas.
Incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared the winner by the country's Supreme Court and inaugurated last week despite the allegations of fraud.
'Escalation of repression'
Fourteen electoral officers have already been arrested for alleged fraud and manipulation of vote counts, the electoral commission said.
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Observers have said it is not clear who won the vote, while human rights and civil society groups 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 US and British experts.
Congolese security forces have shot at and detained people attempting to protest against 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 deaths.
On Thursday, a non-governmental organisation that defends journalists' rights in the DRC denounced what it called an "escalation of repression" in the media around elections last month.
Journaliste En Danger (Journalist in Danger), presenting its annual report, said it had registered "at least 160 cases of various assaults on the freedom of the press, almost half of which took place during the electoral period" from
October to December.
The organisation launched "an urgent appeal to the powers in place to stop the escalation of repression which has hit the press since the post-electoral crisis".
"The authorities have contained the crisis born of the presidential election with discreet but effective repression," said an expert with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
"The opposition didn't take its chance when it failed to produce hard evidence that massive fraud did indeed take place."
The international community has expressed its displeasure over the conduct of the election and tallying by largely snubbing Kabila's inauguration, attended by only one other head of state: Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.
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.
At the time, Tshisekedi had 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 on Wednesday include only 101 of the 500 parliament seats, but none of the major cities in the country that sprawls across Central Africa and covers an area larger than Western Europe.
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.