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Congo Begins Registering 30 Million Voters

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are registering the first of an estimated 30 million voters who will take part in post-war elections next year. Many see voter registration as a real sign of progress, but the process faces huge challenges.

The Congolese were supposed to have voted for a new post-war president and parliament by the end of this month. Instead, they have to make do with the launch of a daunting process of registering an estimated 30 million voters.

Voter registration began in the crumbling capital Kinshasa, as residents lined up to collect a card that should let them vote in a constitutional referendum later this year and then choose their new parliament and president by the middle of 2006.

About 45,000 officials will staff more than 9,000 registration centers across Congo, a country that is the size of Western Europe but has little infrastructure left after decades of dictatorship and years of war and chaos.

Roads have largely disappeared and swathes of the vast mineral-rich Congo are only accessible by airplane or the waters of the Congo River.

The elections are due to end a period of transition after Congo's last war - a five-year conflict that sucked in six neighboring countries and has killed nearly four-million people.

The polls have had to be delayed after the peace process stalled as the former belligerents wrangled over power in Kinshasa and armed groups continue to clash over land and resources in the east.

Recent massacres in South Kivu and continual attacks by militia on civilians, the Congolese army, and U.N. peacekeepers in Ituri, highlight the challenge of registering the millions of voters and organizing an election for them to take part in.

But opposition politicians are saying the delay in the elections highlights the governments lack of ability and desire to organize free and fair elections and are calling for demonstrations at the end of the month.