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Supporters of constitution in strong position at polls

KINSHASA , 21 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - Initial trends in the Democratic Republic of Congo's constitutional referendum show overwhelming support for the document, which, if approved, should clear the way for general elections in 2006.

Thus far 78.47 percent of the nation's 24 million registered voters have voted in favour of the draft constitution, compared with 21.03 percent opposing, said Apolinnaire Malu Malu, chairman of the independent electoral commission.

The preliminary results are based on a tally of 33.8 percent of votes counted in 12,200 of the nation?s 36,028 polling stations.

In Kinshasa, the capital, 88.52 percent of the votes have been counted, of which 50.40 percent approve of the constitution and 49.55 percent oppose it. Political analysts said the tight race in Kinshasa reflects the high concentration of opposition politicians, who have called for a boycott of the referendum.

The boycott call was made by veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union pour la democratie et le progres social. He is fundamentally opposed to the referendum, which he and his party see as selling the country to foreigners.

This appears to be a reference to that clause of the constitution that grants citizenship to all those who settled in the country before independence in 1960.

Voter turnout has been weak in Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental provinces, both Tshisekedi strongholds.

In the east of the country, there has been strong support of the constitution. In South-Kivu Province, for example, the yes vote has carried 97 percent of the ballots cast so far, compared with a no vote of 2.33 percent.

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