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CAR Presidential Hopefuls Urge Halt in Vote Counting

FILE - A man casts his ballot during elections in Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec. 30, 2015.
FILE - A man casts his ballot during elections in Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec. 30, 2015.

Twenty of the 30 candidates seeking the presidency in the Central African Republic are demanding that authorities immediately stop vote counting from December 30 polls, which they allege were marred by ballot irregularities and voter intimidation.

In a joint statement seen by French news agency reporters Monday, the dissenting candidates called the polls "an electoral masquerade" and called for "the whole process to be purely and simply stopped." They also called for all parties to negotiate procedures "for safeguarding the nation" of 5 million residents.

The statement came as partial vote tallies released Sunday showed independent candidate Faustin Archange Touadera, a former prime minister, winning with 23 percent of the vote, a tally of 139,498 ballots.

The most prominent candidate to contest the results was Desire Kolingba, the son of a former president in fourth place with just under 35 percent of the vote in the former French colony.

A likely second round of voting is set for January 31.

Ahead of the vote, many analysts cast the election as an opportunity to restore peace after three years of conflict between Christian militias and Muslim rebels who seized power in 2013.

But hours before polls opened, political analyst Eugene Pehoua Pelema, the president of the U.S.-based Central African Community Council, described the widespread presence of armed groups in the country. He told VOA the government had failed to disarm them, and said he did not believe the election - designed to replace a transitional government - could be free or fair.

For their part, electoral authorities have said all candidates signed an agreement to respect the electoral code of conduct, which permits candidates to contest final results before they are ratified by the country's constitutional court.

Thousands have been killed in the C.A.R. and hundreds of thousands of others driven from their homes since 2013, when Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize. That coup led to the rise of Christian militia and the eventual presence of French troops and a United Nations peacekeeping force.

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