- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KINSHASA, Congo

The European Union called yesterday on the transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to forge ahead with elections after partial results from a referendum showed voters giving overwhelming support to constitutional reform.

The referendum is a “starting point,” said EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel.

“There is no longer an excuse for anybody,” he told Agence France-Presse. “Elections must be organized according to plan, before June 30, 2006,” the latest allowed under an agreement on political transition that ended the 1998-2003 war.

With results in from 12,200 of the country’s 36,000 polling stations, 78.47 percent of electors had voted yes in Sunday’s referendum.

Mr. Michel, a past foreign minister of Belgium, the former colonial power in Congo, said the referendum is “proof that Congo has come up with a system that allows to usher in democracy.”

“My visit here aims to support work already accomplished and to tell the Congolese leaders: Do not draw any legitimacy from this success — the Congolese want to vote for their leaders,” he said.

The Belgian diplomat said the European Union would not tolerate any delay in creating election laws.

“I cannot imagine that the electoral law will not be adopted on January 10,” he said.

The EU Commission has agreed to provide $176 million for elections in the Congo, making the commission the main donor for the vote. Presidential and legislative elections are to be held in March and April, followed by regional, local and Senate elections by June 30.

Mr. Michel met with a number of political leaders during his visit to Kinshasa, including Apollinaire Malu Malu, president of the Independent Electoral Commission, as well as the presidents of both houses of parliament and the nation’s vice presidents. He is due to hold talks today in Lubumbashi with President Joseph Kabila.

About 24.5 million people voted “yes” or “no” to a draft constitution approved by a transitional parliament, which would create a political landscape with a new balance of power between president and government and a decentralize decision-making in 25 new provinces.

The electoral commission has not said when definitive results from the referendum, the first free vote in the vast country in 40 years, will be announced. Newspapers in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday praised the strong lead of “yes” votes.

“The yes ahead by a length,” said Uhuru, a newspaper close to Mr. Kabila’s party, while the opposition newspaper headlined, “78.47 percent yes and 21.03 percent no.”

Another paper, Le Phare, called on Mr. Michel and the international community to resume political dialogue with Kinshasa “to avert objections and confrontation” after Sunday’s vote.

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