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Voting gets off to slow start in key Central Africa polls

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Voting got off to a slow start Wednesday in key presidential and parliamentary elections in the Central African Republic, which people hope will usher in stability after years of sectarian bloodshed.

Snaking queues had formed outside polling stations in the capital Bangui by 0600 GMT, when voting was due to start, but many of them had yet to open two hours later.

Among the areas affected by the delays was the flashpoint PK-5 district of the capital Bangui, where ballot papers and voters’ lists had yet to arrive at some polling stations.

Despite the glitches, the enthusiasm of voters was undimmed.

“We will elect a president who is good for the country,” said a young woman who gave her name as Lucie.

The vote follows a mid-December referendum on constitutional change that was backed by 93 percent of voters, reflecting the popular desire for a return to stability.

Violence has gripped the mineral-rich but dirt-poor country since long-serving president Francois Bozize was ousted in March 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Seleka, which installed Michel Djotodia, the first Muslim leader of a mostly Christian country.

Djotodia quit in January 2014 after disbanding the Seleka, but attacks on Christians by rogue former rebels led to brutal reprisals against Muslims by Christian “anti-balaka” (“anti-machete”) militias, plunging the country’s into a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian attacks.

Central Africa has been wracked by instability, dictatorships and violence since winning independence from France in 1960.

Thousands have been killed in the latest bout of unrest, which has driven about one in 10 of the population of 4.8 million from their homes.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for peaceful and credible elections, saying the fact that two million people had registered to vote was a “clear demonstration of the population’s engagement to exercise their democratic franchise.”

An 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission was working to boost security and prevent “any possible disruption to the election process,” he added.

The elections have been delayed several times, with the latest date set for Sunday pushed back due to logistical problems.

Thirty candidates are running for the presidency.

The three frontrunners include two former prime ministers and a Muslim former foreign minister.


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