BANGUI (Reuters) - A presidential election in Central African Republic, a resource-rich country sandwiched between Sudan and Congo, took a new twist on Tuesday as the main opposition leader failed to lodge his candidacy.
The January 23 election has been delayed three times because of problems over funding and rebel disarmament, leaving President Francois Bozize in power beyond his initial mandate which ended in June, and now the clear favourite to be re-elected.
Martin Ziguele, head of the MLPC opposition grouping, said he did not recognise the November 8 deadline set last month for candidates to confirm they would stand.
“It is not that I am refusing to stand, nor to lodge my candidacy, but the deadline ... has got nothing to do with me because it is illegal,” he said of the new deadline set by Bozize, who considered a previous December 8 target date did not give enough time for preparation of the election.
A national election commission spokesman confirmed on state radio on Tuesday the election was now closed to new candidates.
Aside from Bozize, five other hopefuls registered to stand for the vote, including former president Ange Felix Patasse and four other independent candidates.
Longstanding instability in landlocked CAR, which is roughly the size of France, has so far discouraged major investment in its gold, uranium and diamond deposits.
Aside from conflict involving home-grown rebels, the country has been caught up in the conflict between neighbours Chad and Sudan, whose respective rebels have taken advantage of CAR’s vast ungoverned north.
More recently, its population has also suffered repeated attacks from Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, a group led by Joseph Kony which has abducted thousands in the region for use as child soldiers or sex slaves.