Central Africans vote in elections marred by violence
People in the Central African Republic (CAR) have gone to the polls to cast their ballots in presidential and legislative elections overshadowed by the escalation of fighting between rebels and government forces.
Polls opened across the troubled African country early Sunday, with voters choosing a new president and parliament amid fears of rising violence as the government tries to hinder rebels’ advance on the capital, Bangui.
Armed groups hostile to President Faustin Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, have stepped up attacks since the constitutional court rejected earlier in the month several candidacies, including the incumbent’s main rival, former president Francois Bozize.
Surveys showed Touadera as the most favorite in the field of 17 candidates and that his main challenger is Anicet Georges Dologuele, a former prime minister who finished runner-up in 2016 and is supported by Bozize.
The elections will go to a second round if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Media reports said UN peacekeepers and local soldiers were patrolling the streets throughout the capital, and that armored vehicles mounted with machine guns had been deployed outside polling stations.
The armed groups in the CAR earlier accused Touadera’s government of seeking to fix the elections and warned of a violent response.
Leaders of the three main armed rebel groups in the CAR formed a coalition, known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), and launched an offensive last week after threatening to march on Bangui.
The CAR’s government called the move by the CPC, already accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a “coup” organized by Bozize, a claim the former president denies.
The UN, which has more than 12,800 peacekeepers in the country, said on Saturday that “unidentified armed combatants” had killed three peacekeepers from Burundi in attacks in the central Kemo prefecture and the southern Mbomou prefecture.
The rebel coalition CPC had earlier in the day called off a ceasefire and reiterated calls for the suspension of the elections.
More than 55,000 people have fled their homes in fear of violence in recent weeks, according to the UN. The HRW said at least five civilians have been killed in the period.