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Key referendum underway in Central African Republic

Citizens have begun voting for a new constitution that seeks to end a deadly sectarian conflict in the African country. The referendum has been hailed as a step forward for a "stable country and its people."

Polling stations opened Sunday morning in the Central African Republican for a key referendum on a new constitution aimed at bringing an end to deadly sectarian violence.

If approved, the new constitution would replace the transitional charter, effectively limiting the presidency to two terms and introducing a senate as the primary legislative body.

It would also block members of the interim government from running in the legislative and presidential elections slated for December 27.

The landlocked African country has witnessed nearly one-third of its 4.7 million population displaced due to violence between Christian and Muslim militias.

In 2013, Seleka - a coalition of Muslim rebel groups - seized the capital and overthrew Francois Bozize, the country's Christian president, following a failed power-sharing deal. Nourredine Adam, a former rebel commander, said the vote should not go ahead.

The National Election Authority - the republic's official electoral body - sought to reassure voters over the referendum, despite issues with the distribution of voting cards and only 15,000 copies of the new constitution having been printed.

The UN hailed the referendum as a step forward for the conflict-stricken country, noting that it would provide the opportunity for a "stable future."

"The referendum is a significant milestone towards the end of the transition in the Central African Republic, which will lay new foundations for a stable future for the country and its people," said a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The spokesman said that Ban urged "all national stakeholders to ensure that the referendum is conducted in a peaceful and credible manner," adding that the UN supports the transitional authorities.

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ls/rc (AFP, dpa)

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