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EU observers arrive ahead of constitutional referendum

KINSHASA, 22 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - The head of an advanced team of nine EU observers of a constitutional referendum set to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 18 December declared on Monday that he would make an exhaustive and unbiased assessment of preparations for the vote.

"The mission will identify potential improvements that need to be made and make recommendations to the Congolese authorities and to the international community," Philippe Morillon, a French general who heads the mission, said at a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa.

Morillon arrived in the DRC on 17 November along with electoral experts from France, Italy, Ireland, Poland and Spain.

He said 24 more observers from EU nations were expected to arrive on Friday. "They will be deployed in all provinces in the country."

The process includes "logistic and administrative preparations; campaigning; the voting process and the publication of the results", Morillon said.

The presence of EU observers also aims to calm political tensions, he said. The EU is a leading international donor for the elections.

A week after the referendum, a delegation would arrive in the DRC consisting of members of the European Parliament, European national parliaments and diplomats from EU nations, Morillon said.

When the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections take place, Morillon said the EU would deploy an even larger observer mission.

According to the Congolese Independent Electoral Commission, some 22 million people have so far registered to vote, with the registration process continuing in two provinces.

However, on Sunday, the head of the opposition Union pour la democratie et le progres social, Etienne Tshisekedi, called on supporters to boycott the referendum.

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