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Dates released for DR Congo polls

Polling station
Holding the polls in war-ravaged DR Congo will be a big challenge

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has set the dates for the first multi-party elections for some four decades.

Parliamentary elections and the first round of the presidential contest will be on 29 April, with a possible presidential run-off on 2 June.

The dates were set after the approval of a new constitution in a referendum.

Mineral-rich DR Congo, the size of western Europe, has been ravaged by conflict and misrule.

There are no roads or railways connecting one side of DR Congo to the other.

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It is currently run by a power-sharing government, including ex-rebels, after a peace deal was signed in 2002.

Some 17,000 UN peacekeepers are there to oversee the polls.

Armed groups continue to rampage in parts of the east, although the army, backed by the UN peacekeepers have launched operations to disarm them.

Free and fair

Many Congolese said they backed the new constitution, without knowing its contents, because they wanted to end the period of transitional rule and feared that further delays could lead to renewed conflict.

Voters queue outside a polling station in Kinshasa, DR Congo
The Congolese have little experience of voting
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 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.

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

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

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