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In Central African Republic Rallies mark end of election campaign

"I was very enthusiastic to go and meet my compatriots everywhere .... even where they are seeking refuge from the conflict," he said of his campaign.

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Martin Ziguele, former Central African Republic's (CAR) prime minister and now a leading opposition figure in CAR and president of Movement of the Liberation of Central African People (MLPC), speaks during an interview with Reuters at his residence in Bangui January 1, 2013. REUTERS/Luc Gnago play Martin Ziguele, former Central African Republic's (CAR) prime minister and now a leading opposition figure in CAR and president of Movement of the Liberation of Central African People (MLPC), speaks during an interview with Reuters at his residence in Bangui January 1, 2013. REUTERS/Luc Gnago (Reuters)

Noisy rallies marked the end of campaigning on Monday by candidates in Central African Republic's elections, aimed at restoring democratic rule in a country gripped by years of violence in which thousands have died.

Three of the main presidential candidates organised slow-moving caravans in the capital Bangui with election banners and speakers mounted on trucks tailed by long lines of motorbikes to attract crowds and create buzz for their campaigns.

The presidential and legislative elections on Wednesday come in the aftermath of a bitter conflict that has forced nearly one-fifth of the country's 5 million people to flee their homes. The unrest has repeatedly delayed the polls.

Mainly Muslim rebels from a group called the Seleka seized power in the majority Christian nation in early 2013, provoking reprisals from Christian anti-balaka militias that triggered a cycle of religious killings.

"You can see that the campaign is ending with this great caravan (of vehicles). Lots of Central Africans, especially young people, have hope in me and that is a heavy responsibility," said former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele, a leading contender for the presidency.

"If the elections are not just and transparent, they risk to be a new source of problems," he said. Other top candidates include former Foreign Minister Karim Meckassoua, Former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele and Bilal Desire Nzanga-Kolingba, the son of a former president.

It was unclear when results from the voting will be announced, and no polls have been conducted either in the presidential race or in contests for hundreds of seats in the national assembly.

Meckassoua, a Muslim from the troubled PK-5 neighbourhood of Bangui, held a meeting before hundreds of people in a suburb under the control of the anti-balaka militia.

"I was very enthusiastic to go and meet my compatriots everywhere .... even where they are seeking refuge from the conflict," he said of his campaign.

The country approved a new constitution this month and many hope the election will bring them a step closer to restoring stability.

Doubts remain about the capacity of the transitional government and the electoral commission to stage the election in a country carved up by warlords.

The United Nations said the training of polling agents has been completed in 15 prefectures and in Bangui. In addition, the U.N. peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, has distributed some 6,500 election observation kits to candidates and political parties.

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