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DRC President Signs Legislation on Local Elections

FILE - Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila
FILE - Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila

The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has signed legislation to keep elections on a timeline proposed by an independent commission, a government spokesman said Wednesday, as the new U.S. envoy for the region urged respect for the constitution and electoral calendar.

President Joseph Kabila on Tuesday signed the parliament-approved legislation to hold the first local elections Oct. 25, said spokesman Lambert Mende.

"The president's actions today reflect the government's steadfast commitment to upholding the electoral calendar,'' he said. The Independent National Electoral Commission's implementation of the timeline "will enable the Congolese people to participate in free, fair and transparent elections at all levels of government.''

Presidential elections are slated for November 2016.

Mass protests erupted in Congo in January against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to prolong Kabila's rule. Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, has remained quiet about his future in politics, but the D.R.C. has never had a peaceful transfer of power in its 55 years of independence.

The new U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Thomas Perriello, met with Kabila on Wednesday before holding his first news conference there.

The election process is as important as election day, and "many partners must be involved in ensuring a truly free and transparent elections cycle here,'' he said.

Tensions have been high between the president and opposition parties, who fear election delays could keep Kabila in office beyond constitutional limits.

Kabila called for a dialogue in June, but opposition parties refused to participate without international mediation. Some leaders have said they worry talks will lead to the formation of a national unity government that would delay elections.