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Death toll rises to five as unrest mars Central Africa vote


central-africa-crisisThe death toll from clashes sparked by a referendum in the Central African Republic capital Bangui rose to five on Monday as the Red Cross reported another three lives lost in the weekend unrest.

The clashes involving rocket launchers and machine guns disrupted the polling Sunday in the Muslim-majority PK-5 district of Bangui.

UN peacekeepers and French soldiers were massed in the flashpoint district on Monday to allow its voters to complete polling in the referendum aimed at ending years of sectarian strife.

Some factions of the mainly Muslim Seleka force had threatened to block the vote, as had some supporters of the mainly Christian militia known as the “anti-balaka” (anti-machete).

Among the latter were backers of ousted president Francois Bozize, whose candidacy for the upcoming presidential election has been rejected by the constitutional court.

Violence also marred polling elsewhere in the former French colony, notably in the north and east, according to an unnamed source in the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, sent in to quell fighting that has forced 10 percent of the population to flee their homes.

Another 20 people were wounded, several seriously, in Sunday’s fighting, the Red Cross said.

The vote is seen as a test run for presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place December 27 to end more than two years of conflict between the Muslim and Christian militias.

The proposed constitution would limit presidential tenure to two terms, fight institutional corruption and rein in the armed militias, blamed for years of chaos and terror.

If adopted, it would usher in the sixth republic since independence from France in 1960 and mark the 13th political regime in a country notorious for its chronic instability.

Results are expected in the next two days.

Unrest has forced the impoverished country to postpone elections repeatedly despite intense international pressure to hold them.

The Central African Republic plunged into its worst crisis since independence after Bozize was ousted by rebels from the Seleka force in March 2013, triggering a wave of tit-for-tat violence with “anti-balaka” militias.

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