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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a real pleasure to have an opportunity to talk to the extremely, extremely (inaudible) civil society here in Congo.  A strong, vibrant, independent civil society is essential to any democracy; it’s essential here.  And it’s really critical to helping to meet the challenges that the DRC is facing.

So we’ll have an opportunity to talk about some of those challenges, to get the perspectives of these leaders to include the situation in eastern Congo, the challenges faced there; the upcoming elections next week, and everything that can be done to make sure that they happen on time and in a fair way; and other challenges that the Congolese people are facing, including strengthening their democracy, especially the rights and full participation of Congolese in all the most important questions the country and the future.

I just want to thank all of you for being here today and being willing to share with us your insights, your experiences, and your ideas.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future