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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 January 2006, 01:40 GMT
DR Congo backs new constitution
Polling station
DR Congo's people voted for the constitution in December
The Democratic Republic of Congo has approved a new constitution which paves the way for historic elections expected later this year.

According to official results from the 18 December referendum, released on Wednesday, 84.31% voted in favour of the constitution to 15.69% against.

The new charter allows greater autonomy for some of the huge country's mineral-rich regions.

The minimum age for presidential candidates is down from 35 to 30.

The war-ravaged country, which has seen conflict in 1996-1997 and 1998-2002, has struggled under a provisional government since 2002.

15m voters

The drop in the minimum age of presidential candidates means 33-year-old Joseph Kabila, who has been president since the death of his father Laurent in 2001, can stand.

About 15 million of DR Congo's 25 million registered voters voted in the December ballot to approve the ballot.

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

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila
President Kabila has led a transitional government since 2002

The people of the DR Congo had last voted en masse in 1970, when former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was the only candidate.

No specific date has yet been announced for the election, which is supposed to be held before the end of June.

The constitution was written by members of Mr Kabila's transitional government, which includes ex-rebel leaders.

But some Congolese have complained about the constitution, saying politicians have put their own welfare ahead of the nation.

It has been suggested that the minimum age has deliberately been cut to allow Mr Kabila to run.

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