, BANGUI, Dec 23- Campaigning kicked off in earnest on Tuesday in the Central African Republic, where no fewer than 30 candidates are running for president.
The long delayed presidential and parliamentary polls set for Sunday are aimed at ending more than two years of sectarian conflict.
Only on Monday, electoral officials said a constitutional referendum clearing the way for the vote had won 93 percent backing.
The result cleared the way for Sunday’s polls to turn the page on the conflict that erupted after a mainly Muslim rebellion overthrew longtime Christian leader Francois Bozize in 2013.
One of the front-runners, Anicet Georges Dologuele, ventured into the PK-5 district of the capital Bangui, a mainly Muslim area that has been a flashpoint of the unrest.
Dressed head to toe in blue, his campaign colour, Dologuele told supporters: “At age 58, I have never held a weapon.”
“It’s the colour of the peace that we all want,” said Jean Charles Ngmamou Abdel Kader, a youth leader in the district, where five people were killed on the first day of the December 13-14 referendum.
On Tuesday, the Kwa na Kwa (KNK) party of Bozize — in exile at an unknown African location and barred from standing — threw its support behind Dologuele, who goes by his initials AGD.
Bozize, 69, is the target of UN sanctions for supporting the Christian militias who have attacked members of the Muslim minority in tit for tat fighting that has devastated one of Africa’s poorest and most unstable nations.
He is also sought by the transitional government of Catherine Samba Panza.
The KNK party secretary general, Bertin Bea, announced its endorsement of AGD at a Bangui news conference.
AGD, a former prime minister and banker, said a “place” would be found for Bozize, without elaborating.
“It’s a legal issue, but I believe in the presumption of innocence and I favour all former heads of state,” he said, including Samba Panza and Michel Djotodia, who became the country’s first Muslim president after Bozize’s toppling before himself being ousted by international forces for failing to rein in his fighters.
Another candidate, Martin Ziguele, like AGD a former prime minister, is thought to be favoured by former colonial power France, with a similar slogan to AGD’s: “United we will win.”
Other candidates considered with a chance include Karim Meckassoua, who offers “Pathways of Hope”, and Xavier Sylvestre Yangongo, a former general whose campaign posters refer to him as “the pillar” of the country.
Failing an outright win on Sunday, a second round is scheduled for January 16.