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Registration of presidential, legislative candidates begins

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KINSHASA, 10 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Registration offices for candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo's presidential and legislative elections opened on Friday in the capital, Kinshasa.

"We are awaiting the first candidate for registration," Apollinaire Muholongo Malumalu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, said.

Candidates have until 23 March to complete this formality; presidential hopefuls can only register in the commission's subcommittee bureau in Kinshasa. Malumalu made this announcement shortly after President Joseph Kabila promulgated the electoral law setting the polling date.

"The Ministry of Interior registered 270 political parties today," Malumalu said.

These will be Congo's first democratic elections in 40 years. Under the electoral timetable, the final result of the first round of the presidential poll is due to be given on 14 July. If a candidate fails to obtain 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held.

Announcement of the poll date came as veteran opposition political Leader Etienne Tshisekedi called a demonstration for Friday to press his demands that voter-registration bureaux be reopened to accommodate his supporters. However, police have dispersed the demonstrators in Kinshasa.

"We will not reopen the voter-registration bureaux because of constraints in the [election] timetable," Malumalu said.

Tshisekedi, who heads the Union pour la democratie et le progres social, wants the process reopened because he has withdrawn an earlier decision to boycott the polls. His turnaround came only after registration had been closed, and following massive voter support in an 18 December 2005 referendum for the country's new constitution.

Initially, he had called for the boycott saying his party was fundamentally opposed to the constitution, which amounted to selling the country to foreigners. This appeared to be a reference to a clause in the document granting citizenship to people who settled in the country before independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi was a one-time prime minister under President Mobutu Sese-Seko, who rebels overthrew in 1997.

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