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Congo Adopts New Constitution, But Polls Look Delayed

VOA News - February 18, 2006

The Democratic Republic of Congo adopted a new constitution Saturday, taking another step towards recovery after decades of dictatorship, war and chaos. The new document paves the way for the first democratic elections in 40 years. But, speculation is mounting over whether the June 30 deadline for elections can be met.

Congo's President Joseph Kabila signs the country's new postwar constitution Amid much pomp and ceremony, and in the presence of South Africa's president and the head of the African Union, Congo's President Joseph Kabila signed in his country's post war constitution Saturday.

Cannons thundered, a new flag was raised and thousands cheered at Mr. Kabila's riverside presidential palace.

Diplomats said that it was another step in the right direction for the vast African country which is struggling to recover from a five year war that has killed four million people.

The new constitution will bring in leaders due to be elected in polls later this year that are considered the cornerstone for peace deals that ended Congo's last conflict.

The last time Congo had a new constitution was in 1967, when Mobutu Sese Seko took power and went on to rule for decades, crippling the mineral-rich giant at the heart of Africa.

However, Congo's conflict is believed to be the most deadly since the Second World War and the international community has invested billions there, not only in U.N. peacekeepers but also the process of organizing elections.

Continued fighting, deep divisions within the transitional government and mammoth logistical challenges have delayed the process already, leading to violent protests in 2005.

Despite promises by Mr. Kabila to the contrary, and continued pressure from those eager to see the process completed and avoid possible violence, speculation is mounting that the June 30, 2006 election deadline will also slip.

Parliament has not yet passed an electoral law and experts say the process of registering candidates, printing ballot papers for Congo's 25 million voters and distributing them around the vast country will take months.

For many in Kinshasa, however, Saturday marked what they hope will be an end to the country's turbulent and lawless past.

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