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Congo Election Date Slips as Officials Wade Through Tasks

The day millions of Congolese are to vote for the first time in more than four decades continues to be delayed. First slated for the middle of last year and then for June this year, in each case the election was delayed. No new date has been announced but, as candidates are checked and ballot papers prepared, officials say the end of July is the earliest presidential and parliamentary polls can be held.

After the latest date, June 18, was declared impossible due to an extension of the registration of candidates, diplomats and U.N. officials are eager to prevent another being announced and missed.

But, in private, they acknowledge the landmark polls, which are meant to help draw a line under the Congo's last war, are unlikely to be held before the end of July, at the earliest.

The electoral commission has confirmed there will be 33 presidential candidates. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is wading through nearly 10,000 applications for the parliamentary elections.

Electoral commission spokesman Diedonne Mirimo said each step of the process was taking longer than expected, but a new date would be set by the end of the month.

But that can only be completed once a company has been chosen to print 25 million ballot papers. These then need to be distributed across the vast chaotic country, which lacks infrastructure and remains riddled with fighting.

It is hoped the polls will provide the Democratic Republic of Congo with a fresh start after years of chaos and wars, the last of which involved six neighboring countries and sparked a humanitarian crisis that led to the deaths of four million people.

Current President Joseph Kabila and most of the rebels who fought against him during the 1998-2003 conflict have signed up to take part in the elections.

Citing irregularities with the system, a popular opposition leader has not. The head of the popular veteran opposition UDPS party, Etienne Tshisekedi, says the polls cannot be free and fair without him. This has prompted fear of violence whenever the election does take place.