US calls on Central African Republic to announce date for local elections

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Tuesday called on the Central African Republic to announce a date for local elections and added that Washington held “deep reservations” about a July 30 constitutional referendum in the country.

“The United States notes with deep reservations reports of low voter participation and concerns over secrecy of the ballot,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “We call on the CAR government to announce a date for local elections in which all Central Africans can express their views at the ballot box.”

Provisional results for the referendum showed more than 95% of voters backed a new constitution that could allow President Faustin-Archange Touadera to run for a third term in 2025.

The country’s constitutional court on Monday validated the results of the July 30 referendum, which the State Department says “undercuts the country’s democratic governance”.

Touadera was first elected in 2016 to a five-year term and won reelection in 2020 for what was supposed to be his final term in office.

The proposed new constitution would abolish the two-term limit and extend the presidential mandate from five to seven years.

Opposition parties and some civil society groups called for a boycott of the referendum, saying it was designed to keep Touadera in power for life.

The land-locked country, roughly the size of France and with a population of around 5.5 million, is rich in minerals including gold, diamond, and timber. It has witnessed waves instability, including coups and rebellions, since independence from France in 1960.

Touadera, 66, has struggled to quell rebel groups that have controlled pockets of the country. He turned to Russia for help in tackling the rebels in 2018.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)