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Central African Republic votes for end to turmoil

Voters in Central African Republic have cast their ballots in the second round of presidential elections and legislative polls. It is hoped the vote will bring peace after sectarian violence shook the country in 2013.

Voters in the Central African Republic cast their ballots Sunday in a delayed presidental runoff and legislative poll.

The country - beset by coups, violence and misrule since gaining independence from France in 1960 - could see a turnaround if the vote and its aftermath go smoothly.

"It's crucial that people vote today," Paterne, a local, told the AFP news agency as he waited to cast his ballot at a polling center in the capital, Bangui.

"For the first time," he added, "we have a true opportunity to turn our backs on war."

At the close of polls, it appeared that the vote had gone off without serious incident. UN peacekeepers and French soldiers had been out in force throughout the day to patrol areas where tensions were high.

Armed soldiers of the 11,000-strong UN mission MINUSCA guarded polling stations, and helicopters patrolled the skies. French soldiers stationed in the African nation monitored the streets in armored vehicles.

"Overall it's going very well, except for some problems in certain polling stations," Marie Madeleine N'Kouet Hoornaert, president of the National Elections Authority, told journalists as voting ended.

Voters in Bangui and some other areas complained of being turned away because their names were not present on the offical ballot list or because they were not carrying proof of identity.

'Celebration of love'

Anicet Georges Dologuele, a 58-year-old fomer central banker, was up against Faustin Archange Touadera in the runoff. Known as "Mr. Clean" for his efforts to rid the country of corruption, Dologuele took 23.78 percent of votes in the first round of voting on December 30.

"Valentine's is a celebration of love," Dologuele said, referring to the February 14 election day, "and I'd like Central Africans to see voting today as an act of love for their country."

Zentralafrikanische Republik Bangui Wahlen Wahllokal

Dologuele won the first round of polls on December 30

Dologuele faces stiff competition from Touadera, a 58-year-old mathematics professor who ran as an independent and surprised everyone by placing second in December.

Touadera's popularity stems from his tenure as prime minister, when he enforced measures to weed out corruption, paid government salaries directly into bank accounts and resolved the problem of unpaid wages.

First democratic elections since 2013

Voters were also choosing members of the National Assembly on Sunday. Polls for the legislative body took place last year, but were annulled following several irregularities.

The elections took place after 93 percent of citizens backed a constitutional referendum. The polls are the country's first democratic elections after a coup in 2013, in which President Francois Bozize was ousted by the Muslim Seleka rebels.

The incident sparked a series of counterattacks and fighting between the Seleka and the Christian "anti-balaka," or anti-machete, militias. Thousands of people were slaughtered, and about 10 percent of CAR's 4.8 million people fled the country.

mg/jlw (AFP, Reuters)