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Congo Government Transition Extended, Elections in 2006


The Democratic Republic of Congo's transitional government's mandate was extended Friday by at least another six months. But the head of the electoral commission also announced that the first elections in 40 years will not take place before the middle of next year.

In a joint session of the houses of parliament, Congolese lawmakers voted Friday to extend the mandate of a transitional government that is charged with rebuilding the vast African country and organizing the first elections in 40 years.

Polls to elect a new president, parliament and local government after years of chaos and the deaths of nearly four million people were due to be held by the end of June this year. But internal wrangling in Kinshasa, continued fighting in much of the east and, according to many analysts, a lack of political will across much of the country, have meant the elections will not take place until next year.

The registration of an estimated 30 million voters will not start until next week. Nine thousand voting stations need to be set up and tens of thousands of electoral officials hired and trained. All this has to be carried out across a country the size of Western Europe, with little infrastructure to speak of and continued clashes between armed groups fighting over the country's natural resources.

As a result, Father Apollinaire Malu Malu, the head of the independent electoral commission, said Friday that, for polls to be organized properly, the first round of presidential elections should be held in March 2006 and an eventual run-off vote will not be held before the end of April.

As allowed under the current constitution, Father Malu Malu will have to ask for another extension of the transition at the end of the year.

But there are growing tensions in the chaotic and sprawling capital, where many believe that Congo's leaders are stalling so they can profit from the perks of power.

Opposition parties are threatening to organize large-scale demonstrations towards the end of the month, unless wide-sweeping changes are brought in to revitalize the peace process.

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