* Opposition hopes delay will improve transparency
* Partial results show Kabila in the lead
* Tense calm holds in capital Kinshasa (Adds election commission, clashes in east)
By Jonny Hogg
KINSHASA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party welcomed a delay in election results on Wednesday, saying it would allow time to make the vote more credible, as relative calm returned to the country’s capital.
Britain, France and the United States have called on the election commission to announce results by polling station to improve transparency. The body has promised to do so for the remaining 10 percent of the votes that have yet to be counted.
Violence has flared in the vast, impoverished central African country amid allegations of fraud and logistical hurdles, raising worries the first locally organised election since a 1998-2003 war could trigger further bloodshed.
With nearly 90 percent of ballot papers counted, President Joseph Kabila has just under half the vote and leads main opposition challenger Etienne Tshisekedi by 15 points, the National Election Commission said.
The opposition has rejected the figures repeatedly as “fantasy” but welcomed the delay.
“This delay is the search for truth, it’s not a deliberate act,” said Remy Masamba, a spokesman for Tshisekedi’s UDPS party. “We think the international community has taken hold of the situation and started to push for more transparency, a minimum of credibility.”
Congo’s electoral body had been due to declare complete preliminary results on Tuesday, but delayed it by 48 hours because it had not received official tallies from all 63,000 polling stations across a country more than half the size of the European Union.
London, Washington and Paris have pushed for results to be published by individual polling station so parties and observers can compare them with the figures they collected on voting day.
“We are pressing the electoral commission to publish polling station by polling station the results so any necessary appeals by those taking part can take place,” Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s secretary of state for international development, told parliament. The French foreign ministry followed suit.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Twitter that the “release of the results as soon as possible, polling station by polling station, (is) critical.”
Election commission spokesman Mathieu Mpita said the organisation would try and start giving results for individual polling stations from Thursday but it was unlikely to go back over figures it had already issued.
“People can check with the results published on the website, but redoing the figures, I don’t think so,” he said.
Congo’s Catholic Church, which had the largest network of observers in country and said it would know the winner of the poll, had previously called for this too.
At least 18 people have been killed in election-related violence, according to Human Rights Watch, and neighbouring Congo Republic has prepared a refugee camp in case an escalation triggers an exodus from the capital Kinshasa.
Underscoring simmering violence in the east of the country, both North and South Kivu provinces saw clashes this week.
A government spokesman said three civilians were killed in the crossfire between the army and Ugandan ADF-NALU rebels in North Kivu on Tuesday. The spokesman said government forces had also fought rebels in South Kivu but he was not able to confirm a U.N.-backed Radio Okapi report that four soldiers were killed.
“These people are trying to jeopardize the whole process, to show that nothing works, but the army has been instructed to act very firmly,” spokesman Lambert Mende said.
The capital Kinshasa remained largely locked down on Wednesday, with rows of shops emptied of stock and the city’s normally gridlocked roads empty.
Police fired teargas at UDPS supporters after blocking off their route to the party’s headquarters, a few hundred metres from Tshisekedi’s house, a Reuters witness said.
Eva Moke, who sells CDs in the central market, complained of being more spooked than reassured by the security forces.
“They don’t protect the people, so the more we see, the more we’re scared,” he said of the trucks full of teargas toting police, which have patrolled the city in recent days.
Congo’s police chief however said the police were not there to intimidate people, and called on everyone to get back to life as normal.
Battered minibusses remained off the roads amid the uncertainty. “Despite all political sides accepting the postponement, taxis still aren’t working, business is at a standstill. It’s been three days already and we can write off this week, at least,” said Richard Wynne, a British businessman.
The Nov. 28 polls were poorly organised and suffered from widespread irregularities and fraud, according to the EU and Carter Center observer missions.
Many problems were caused by a lack of preparation, observers say, after the electoral commission scrambled to organise the vote in time to announce a winner on Dec. 6, the fifth anniversary of Kabila’s inauguration. (Additional reporting by David Lewis in London; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Bate Felix; Editing by Maria Golovnina)