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Congo gets new constitution, new flag

KINSHASA, 20 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - President Joseph Kabila has promulgated the Democratic Republic of Congo's new constitution and new flag, a move that paves the way for the beginning of the country's electoral process, expected to end with presidential elections midyear.

"From this instant, nothing else can delay the elections," Kabila said on Saturday in the capital, Kinshasa, when he signed the constitution into law.

The promulgation of the new constitution follows a referendum on 18 December 2005, during which 85 percent of voters favoured the after draft constitution.

The head of the African Union and president of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, as well as South African President Thabo Mbeki were among several African and international leaders who attended the promulgation ceremony in Kinshasa.

"After the promulgation of the constitution, it is the National Assembly and Senate's responsibility to adopt the electoral code and [for] the Independent Electoral Commission to establish a calendar for the holding of elections at all levels," Kabila said.

The DRC also unveiled a new flag during the promulgation ceremony. The flag - a star on the left corner, a red ribbon with yellow borders running diagonally across a sky blue background - was hoisted amid the singing of the national anthem by the thousands on people in attendance and a 21-gun salute. The blue in the flag symbolises peace; red the blood of the country's martyrs; yellow the country's wealth; and the star a radiant future for the country.

The DRC transitional government, comprising the president and four deputy presidents, was set up after the signing of a peace deal in 2002 to end the country's five-year war, which led to the deaths of an estimated 3.5 million people and the displacement of another 4 million.

Saturday's promulgation of the new constitution paves the way for the holding of democratic elections in the DRC, the first in 40 years.

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