1110 GMT March 06, 2021
Militias hostile to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, have stepped up attacks since the constitutional court this month rejected several candidates, including former President Francois Bozize, Reuters reported.
Touadera is considered the favorite in the field of 17 candidates. The election will go to a second round if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Some polling stations in the capital Bangui opened with a slight delay amid heavy security, following sporadic gunfire heard during the night.
By 0900 GMT, long lines were forming in several polling stations after voting materials were delivered, a Reuters witness said.
Heavy gunfire was reported early on Sunday in the town of Bouar, around 435 kilometers (270 miles) northwest of the capital, said a 31-year old resident Thierry Yanga who voted in the capital.
The country’s constitutional court on Saturday rejected an appeal from several opposition candidates calling for the election to be postponed.
The government and a United Nation’s mission in the country had rejected a postponement fearing a power vacuum that could worsen the crisis.
The crisis has left many in the diamond- and gold-rich nation of 4.7 million exhausted, while stirring fears of a return to the worst violence of its recent past, which includes five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960.
Touadera was first elected in 2016 following a rebellion three years earlier that ousted Bozize. He has struggled to wrest control of vast swathes of the country from armed militias.
Successive waves of violence since 2013 have killed thousands and forced more than a million from their homes.
Touadera and the United Nations, which has over 12,800 uniformed peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, have accused Bozize of being behind the rebel offensive, which briefly seized the country’s fourth largest city last week and has led to a wave of desertions from the army.
Bozize’s candidacy was rejected because he faces an arrest warrant and UN sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture while president. Bozize has denied those charges.