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Congo Backs Referendum But Delay in Results Causes Concern


Four weeks after the Democratic Republic of Congo held a constitutional referendum, the electoral commission has provisionally declared a victory for the measure. The vote, the country's first in 40 years, was heralded as a success. But, the delay in processing and announcing results is raising concerns for presidential and legislative elections, due later in 2006.

It is nearly four weeks since Congo held a referendum on a post-war constitution. Results have trickled in from across the vast chaotic country and, the electoral commission said late Wednesday, the country has approved a new constitution.

Announcing results that need only to be confirmed by the Supreme Court of Justice, the electoral commission said the referendum received over 84 percent of the 15.5 million votes cast.

The fact that Congo had held a poll was considered by many observers to be a success in itself. The referendum was the first independent election held in the country for over 40 years, during which dictatorship, war and chaos have been the norm.

Congo is vast, roughly the size of western Europe. But it has virtually no roads. And two and a half years after the end of the war, thousands of gunmen still roam the lawless east, attacking civilians.

The international community, led by the U.N., which has its largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission here, has pinned its hopes on elections drawing a line under the last conflict - a five-year war that killed nearly four million, mostly from hunger and disease.

Election observers called the December 18 poll largely free and fair. But the delay in counting, processing and announcing the results is a cause for concern, they say.

They say the electoral commission will have to be much more organized during the two rounds of presidential, legislative and local elections when the stakes, as well as the levels of scrutiny, will be much higher.

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