KINSHASA, Congo — On the eve of the first expected results of Congo’s long-delayed presidential election, President Trump said military personnel had deployed to Central Africa to protect U.S. assets from possible “violent demonstrations,” while the country’s powerful Catholic church warned of a popular “uprising” if untrue results are announced.

Congo faces what could be its first democratic, peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, but election observers and the opposition have raised concerns about voting irregularities as the country chooses a successor to longtime President Joseph Kabila.

Police officers secure the Les Anges primary school in Kinshasa on Dec. 30. The voting process was delayed when angry voters burned six voting machines and ballots mid-day, angered by the fact that the registrations lists had not arrived. Replacement machines had to be brought in, and voting started at nightfall, 12 hours late. Associated Press/Jerome Delay

The first results are expected Sunday, and the U.S. and the African Union, among others, have urged Congo to release results that reflect the true will of the people. The U.S. has threatened sanctions against those who undermine the democratic process. Western election observers were not invited.

While Congo has been largely calm on and after the Dec. 30 vote, Trump’s letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about 80 military personnel and “appropriate combat equipment” had deployed to nearby Gabon to support the security of U.S. citizens and staffers and diplomatic facilities. More will deploy as needed to Gabon, Congo or the neighboring Republic of Congo, he wrote.

The U.S. ahead of the vote ordered “non-emergency” government employees and family members to leave the country.

The Catholic church, an influential voice in the heavily Catholic nation, caused surprise on Thursday by announcing that data reported by its 40,000 election observers deployed in all polling stations show a clear winner. As regulations say only the electoral commission can announce election results, the church did not announce a name.

The electoral commission responded by saying the announcement could incite an “uprising.”

In a letter to the commission on Saturday, seen by The Associated Press, the Catholic church dismissed the accusation that it acted illegally, saying its goal was to “make the electoral process credible” and stabilize the country.

Congo’s ruling party, which backs Kabila’s preferred candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, called the church’s attitude “irresponsible and anarchist.”

Leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, a businessman and lawmaker, has accused Congolese authorities of impeding his campaign. His campaign manager, Pierre Lumbi, on Saturday accused the electoral commission of being “in the process of postponing the publication of the results.”

The commission’s rapporteur, Jean-Pierre Kalamba, said “we will see tomorrow” and that 44 percent of the results had been compiled.

At stake is a vast country rich in the minerals that power the world’s mobile phones and laptops, yet desperately underdeveloped. Some 40 million people were registered to vote, though at the last minute some 1 million voters were barred as the electoral commission cited a deadly Ebola virus outbreak. Critics said that undermines the election’s credibility.

The vote took place more than two years behind schedule, while a court ruled that Kabila could stay in office until the vote was held. The delay led to sometimes deadly protests as authorities cracked down, and Shadary is now under European Union sanctions for his role as interior minister at the time.