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Africa

Key elections in Central African Republic seek to halt bloodshed

Central African Republic votes in a presidential election on Wednesday which many hope will signal the end of months of sectarian strife in which thousands have been killed and many more forced from their homes.

Wednesday's (30.12.2015) elections in Central African Republic have been postponed several times due to violence and logistical problems.

Most recently, they were supposed to have taken place last Sunday (27.12.2015) but were called off partly because of clashes in regions of the country where armed gangs still hold sway.

Roland Marchal, researcher with the Paris Institute of Political Sciences, told DW it was a matter for concern that the elections were going ahead before these groups, in the west and east and in parts of the capital Bangui, have been disarmed.

"Potentially, it's very possible for any armed group to keep its major weapons and be able to strike," he said.

Top electoral officials backed the three day delay because voting materials were not reaching isolated areas and some voters' cards had yet to be printed and distributed. Polling staff also needed last minute training.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Wahlkampf

Central Africans see the elections as a possible way out of bloodshed and turmoil but analysts are skeptical

The elections, which also include legislative polls, follow a referendum on constitutional change earlier this month which won the support of 93 percent of voters.

This is being seen a reflection of the population's yearning for peace and a return to normal life.

Violence erupted in CAR in March 2013 after President Francois Bozize was deposed by the Seleka, a mainly Muslim alliance, which installed Michel Djotodia as the first Muslim head of state of a mostly Christian country.

Candidates for presidency

Facing international pressure, Djotodia stepped down in January 2014 after disbanding the Selekas. But attacks on Christians by rogue Muslim forces led to brutal reprisals against Mulsim districts by anti-balaka militias from Christian communities.

Thousands were slaughtered and just under half a million Central Africans, most of them Muslims, fled the country.

Against this backdrop of a recent turbulent past and the ongoing violence, 30 candidates are vying to become president and at least 1,800 are competing for a place in the 105-seat National Assembly.

Brüssel Geberkonferenz zur Zentralafrikanischen Republik (Catherine Samba-Panza)

A member of the transitional authority, interim President Catherine Samba Panza is not allowed to stand in the elections

Top candidates for the presidency include former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele. "If the elections are not just and transparent, they risk to be another source of problems," he told Reuters.

Another former prime minister in the race is Martin Ziguele. Both of them are Christian. Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, a Muslim, is also being tipped as a front runner. He served as foreign minister under Bozize.

The three previous presidents are barred from standing again. Catherine Samba Panza, the outgoing interim president, cannot run because she was a member of the transitional authority. Bozize and Djotodia are both in exile and face UN and US sanctions.

Doubts remain about the capacity of the transitional government and the electoral commission to stage an election in a country carved up by warlords. The UN peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, has distributed some 6,500 election observation kits to candidates and political parties.

MINUSCA's 10,000 troops and a French contingent of 900 troops will be helping to provide security on polling day.

France's ambassador to CAR, Charles Malinas, highlighted his country's support for the troubled African nation on the eve of the vote.

"We will stay committed, restoring peace and the state. We will not abandon the Central Africans," he said.

Researcher Marchal was rather more downbeat.

"Except for diplomats, few are convinced the day after the elections will be significantly different that the day before the elections," he said.

Katarina Höije contributed to this report

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