Congo electoral commission finishes registering 46 million voters

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo’s electoral commission finished registering 46 million voters on Wednesday for a long-delayed election meant to replace President Joseph Kabila that is currently scheduled for the end of December.

Repeated stalling of the election has raised tensions across the Democratic Republic of Congo, triggering street protests and encouraging armed rebellions, especially since Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.

Scores have been killed by security forces at protests in the capital Kinshasa, including several in demonstrations organized by the Roman Catholic Church since the end of last year to demand that the election go ahead.

Electoral commission (CENI) head Corneille Nangaa said a total of 46,021,454 voters had been registered, 12 percent more than expected. Only the Congolese diaspora was left, and registration for them would start in July, he said.

“CENI is working to ensure the elections happen on December 23,” he said.

Kabila, who has been in power since his father was shot dead in office in 2001, denies clinging to power and has blamed the schedule slipping on problems registering voters in the vast, heavily forested country.

Completing registration is a major step toward the election going ahead, although it is unclear to what extent this will soothe tensions among a skeptical populace.

Kabila’s opponents suspect him of seeking a referendum to change Congo’s constitution to enable him to run for more than two terms, as the leaders of neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and Congo Republic have. In a press conference on Friday, Kabila declined to confirm or deny this, as in the past.

Reporting by Amedee Mwarabu; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Gareth Jones