The European Union said Wednesday that Congo's referendum on a post-war constitution was mostly free and fair, with large numbers of people turning out to vote. The EU observers' blessing comes after the Independent Electoral Commission released the first official figures indicating that most Congolese voted for the new constitution.
Results are still trickling in from remote provinces and local media are full of commentary, but the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) first independent election in over 40 years has received an international nod of approval.
The European Union's observer mission declared Wednesday that Sunday's constitutional referendum was largely free and fair.
There were some cases of intimidation and violence, the EU said, and the logistical challenges of holding a poll in as large and impoverished country as Congo were significant.
But the observers said the referendum, which ran into Monday, gave all Congolese the chance to express themselves freely and paves the way for the mineral-rich country to establish democracy after years or dictatorship, war and chaos.
The first official figures given late Tuesday by the electoral commission said eight out of 10 voters approved the constitution.
If the constitution is accepted, Congo will hold local, parliamentary and presidential elections before the end of June 2006, as called for by peace deals that ended the country's most recent conflict, a five year war that killed four million people.
The EU observers said they were aware of opposition complaints that Theodore Ngoy, a spokesman and one the leaders of the "No" campaign, had been arrested.
But Philippe Morillon, the head of the team, downplayed its significance, saying that it would not have had a serious influence on the majority of the 25 million Congolese who were eligible to vote. Mr. Ngoy was held last week during a meeting calling for a "No" vote and has been held by the authorities since then.
Alongside funding the $1 billion a year United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo, the international community is also providing over $400 million for the electoral process.