World News

Voting extended for Central African referendum after violence

BANGUI (Reuters) - A referendum on a new constitution in Central African Republic spilled into a second day on Monday after violence marred the first day of a vote intended to help end nearly three years of instability.

A Red Cross official said five people were killed and 34 others were wounded during clashes in the capital Bangui which the military commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission said was an attempt by “spoilers” to block the vote.

The referendum is a precursor to long-delayed presidential and legislative elections due on Dec. 27.

“Since 7 o’clock this morning (0800 GMT), thousands of people are voting,” said Ousmane Abakar, a spokesman for the Muslim community of PK5, the main Muslim enclave in Bangui and the site of Sunday’s clashes.

“We are determined to vote despite (yesterday’s) shooting.”

Voting was due to end by the afternoon and results should be available within 72 hours, said Marie-Madeleine N’Kouet, president of the National Elections Authority (ANE).

Former colonial power France has been among nations pushing interim authorities to hold elections, saying they are the only way to end a cycle of violence that began when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in 2013.

Since then, thousands of people have been killed and nearly one million people in a country with a population of nearly five million have been forced to flee as militias drawn from the Christian majority have launched reprisal attacks.

Two successive interim governments as well as thousands of U.N. and French peacekeepers have struggled to stop the fighting and disarm militias.

On Monday, the streets of Bangui were calm with soldiers from the U.N.’s MINUSCA mission visible at key junctions.

However, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said that voters in some northern parts of the country were not able to participate because fighters loyal to Seleka commander Noureddine Adam had blocked the vote.

Adam’s faction says that conditions, such as the return of refugees, are not in place to allow polls to proceed.

Pope Francis visited Bangui last month to implore Christians and Muslims to end a spiral of hate in a historically unstable country. Clashes halted briefly during his visit but more killings have been reported since.

The country is rich in diamonds, uranium, gold and oil, but its people are among the world’s poorest.

Reporting by Sebastien Lamba and Crispin Dembessa-Kette; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Joe Bavier