- Presidential election seen as key step to ending killings
- French military deployed since 2013 due to leave this year
The Central African Republic held the final round of a presidential election meant to pave the way to restoring state authority in the diamond-rich country as French peacekeepers are preparing to withdraw.
The election pits former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele, who won 24 percent of the ballot in the first round, against Faustin-Archange Touadera, who headed the government from 2008 to 2013 and gained 19 percent in the Dec. 30 vote. Polling stations opened in Bangui, the capital, shortly after 6 a.m. on Sunday and began closing at 4 p.m.
“It’s very important to have a new leader who wants to work for the benefit of the young people,” Ambroise Wodo, a 74-year-old local leader, said in an interview in Bangui’s second arrondissement neigborhood.
No incidents were registered as of 1 p.m., electoral authority spokeswoman Fernande Sackanot said by phone.
A new vote to elect lawmakers is also being held. The constitutional court last month annulled the Dec. 30 legislative election because it found irregularities, but upheld the results of the presidential election.
The election is seen by the United Nations as a first step toward ending the lawlessness that’s gripped the country since March 2013, when mainly Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize. His ouster was marked by widespread killings of civilians, triggering reprisals by a mainly Christian militia.
A French military force that intervened in 2013 to stop the killings will be withdrawn this year, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said last month. The UN has a peacekeeping mission of about 10,000 security personnel.
The Central African Republic is divided up among armed groups, and the interim government has failed to extend its authority outside Bangui, according to the UN. Even within the capital, there have been frequent sectarian clashes around a Muslim enclave, which Pope Francis visited in September as part of an African tour. Almost a million people have fled their homes because of the violence, with more than half seeking shelter in neighboring countries.
The Central African Republic was the world’s 10th-biggest diamond producer by value in 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Trade in the country’s precious stones was banned a year later after the Kimberley Process, which seeks to halt the sale of gems from war zones, said there was no way to determine whether so-called conflict diamonds were being shipped. The nation also has oil deposits in the north that form part of the same geological system tapped by Nigeria, the continent’s largest crude producer.