The Central African Republic votes beneath risk of violence

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© Reuters. A MINUSCA armored personnel carrier guards the streets before the elections in Bangui

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By Antoine Rolland

BANGUI (Reuters) – Voters in the Central African Republic will vote on Sunday to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, held under a cloud of violence, as the government tries to stop a rebel advance.

Militias hostile to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, have stepped up attacks since the Constitutional Court rejected several candidacies earlier this month, including that of former President Francois Bozize.

The crisis has exhausted many in the diamond- and gold-rich nation of 4.7 million people, while raising fears of a return to the worst violence of its recent past, including five coups and numerous uprisings since independence from France in 1960.

“For the past three days, I’ve kept my children by my side,” said Israel Malongou, an entrepreneur in the capital, Bangui. “I want the elections to be over, whoever wins, so we can get back to our lives.”

Touadera was first elected in 2016 after Bozize was overthrown three years earlier. He has tried to wrest control of large parts of the country from armed militias.

Successive waves of violence since 2013 have killed thousands and displaced over a million from their homes.

Touadera is considered the favorite among the 17 candidates. His main antagonist is Anicet Georges Dologuele, a former prime minister who finished runner-up in 2016 and is supported by Bozize. The election goes into a second round if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes.

During the campaign, Touadera touted progress in rebuilding state institutions and opposed calls to opposition to delay the elections.

“There is no institutional crisis. We just have to go ahead with the elections,” he said last week.

Touadera and the United Nations, which have over 12,800 uniformed peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, have accused Bozize of being behind the rebel offensive that briefly captured the country’s fourth largest city last week and resulted in a wave of army desertions.

Bozize’s candidacy was turned down because he was facing an arrest warrant and UN sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture as president.

Bozize has denied these allegations and his party has said it has nothing to do with the recent rebel offensive.

Touadera’s international security partners have responded to the recent violence by deploying additional troops and equipment, including 300 Russian military instructors and 300 Rwandan peacekeepers.

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