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Referendum continues into second day

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GOMA, 19 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - Voters continued trickling into polling stations throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday for the second day of voting on the country's new draft constitution.

"I don't know what is contained in this draft," one voter Immaculee Kitukuyi, told IRIN in Goma, eastern DRC's provincial capital of North Kivu Province, "but I know the ?yes? vote is a start for peace in our country and we are tired of war."

Some voters in Goma started lining up at polling stations at 05:30 on Sunday even though voting was not due to start until two hours later. Police used batons to force them to form single lines.

Violence and intimidation marred voting in some parts of the east. In the town of Kalina, fighters supporting renegade army commander, Laurent Nkunda, "chased away electoral officials", Kisangani Endanda, a communications officer with the Independent Electoral Commission, said.

One of the vice-presidents of the electoral commission, Norbert Basengezi Kantintima, said some electoral officials had been taken hostage in the North Kivu territory of Masisi.

In the territory of Rutshuru, also in North Kivu, at least one woman was killed as voters pushed there way into a voting room.

Still the voting went well according to former rebel leader in the east, Azarias Ruberwa, who is currently one of the four vice-presidents in Congo?s transitional government. Last week he announced his intention to run in the presidential election due in 2006.

"This is the start of a peaceful and democratic era for our country," Ruberwa told reporters in Goma. "This constitution brings solutions for key problems of our country especially that of ethnicity."

Ruberwa is a Tutsi who many Congolese say are foreigners. The draft constitution provides citizenship to anyone who arrived in the country before 1960 when Congo gained independence. That was one reason Kinshasa housewife Claudine Liwele said she voted 'no'.

"The constitution sells out Congolese nationality to people of all origins," she said. "It also fails to lay out laws regarding land with sufficient authority."

Other 'no' voters in Kinshasa said they where displeased with the way the draft constitution divides up the country into 25 provinces. Still others said they were displeased with the articles on marriage in the constitution, which they said could open the way to homosexual marriages.

One Saturday, Molotov cocktails were thrown at three polling stations in Kinsahsa.

In the provinces of Kasai Oriental and Kasia Occidental, Few people voted. The provinces are the strongholds of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who had called for a boycott of the referendum. By Sunday only 300 people had voted in Mbuji-Mayi, provincial capital of Kasai Oriental.

"There are polling stations that have not yet registered a single vote," a reporter for the UN supported broadcaster, Radio Okapi, said.

"We called on the people of Congo to stay at home so that the vote would be cancelled," Augustin Kikukama, leader of the opposition group Mouvement 17, said.

However, voting was peaceful in most areas and turnout was "very impressive" Endanda said.

The president of the electoral commission, Apollinaire Malumalu, said, "We should be able to give an idea of voter tendencies by [Monday] evening."

Some 24 million people have been registered to vote in the referendum and the subsequent local, parliamentary and presidential elections.


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