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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 December 2005, 08:30 GMT
DR Congo 'Yes' vote in solid lead
Election officials in Bukavu, DR Congo
The constitution paves the way for multi-party elections next year
The "yes" vote in the Democratic Republic of Congo's referendum on a new constitution has reached 83%, with nearly two-thirds of ballots counted.

With votes from 21,000 out of 36,000 polling stations counted, turnout was reported to be around 60%, reports the independent electoral commission.

Religious and foreign election observers said the poll had been largely free, fair and transparent.

It was the first open election in 40 years in the war-ravaged country.

'Coming together'

The "Yes" vote was in the lead across the whole of DR Congo, said election officials, with the "No" votes averaging 17%.

In the capital Kinshasa, not known as a bastion of support for the constitution, voters appeared to have narrowly backed the agreement.

In the east of the country, the provinces worst affected by civil war returned approval rates for the draft in the high 90s.

If approved, the constitution would pave the way for the country's first multi-party election next year.

President limited to two five-year terms
Presidential age limit reduced from 35 to 33
President names prime minister from largest party
Provinces increased from 10 to 26
Same-sex marriage banned

Religious monitors, who numbered some 4,000, said the vote was free, democratic and open while EU observers said it was fair and transparent.

"The Congolese people have shown that whatever the situation, they are capable... of working together to change the face of the country," said Theodore Fumunzanza, of the electoral observers network from religious faiths.

However, the opposition said there were irregularities and protested against the arrest of a spokesman for the "No" campaign last week.

A date for the release of the final results has not been issued but it is not expected to be until after the Christmas period.

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