Burkina Faso votes under looming threat of violence

Electoral workers transport ballot boxes on their motorcycles as they arrive to prepare a polling station ahead of the presidential and legislative elections, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso heads to the polls on Sunday in an election dominated by jihadist violence, which has cost over 2,000 lives this year and will prevent voting in hundreds of villages.

President Roch Kaboré is seeking a second five-year term, campaigning on achievements including free healthcare for children under the age of five, and paving some of the red dirt roads that snake across the arid West African country.

But a surge in attacks by groups with links to the militant groups al Qaeda and Islamic State has eclipsed everything else. Three weeks after his inauguration, al Qaeda’s regional branch attacked a hotel and a cafe in the capital, killing 32 people; an ambush on mine workers in the east last year killed 39.

"I like Kaboré , but he hasn't managed the security situation. The north has been forgotten, there is no government authority there," said Tiadiane Bonkoungou, who sells blankets and drapes at a market stall in Ouagadougou.

Kaboré faces stiff opposition from former finance minister Zephirin Diabré, the runner-up in 2015, and Eddie Komboigo, who runs the party of Blaise Campaoré, the president of 27 years who was overthrown in 2014. Analysts expect a tight race that could go to a second round if no candidate wins more than 50%.

Provisional results of the first round are expected by midweek.

In a press conference on Saturday, Diabré said that the president was orchestrating "massive fraud" ahead of the vote, without providing evidence.

The electoral commission says polling stations will remain shut across much of the north and east for fear of violence.

At least 400,000 people - nearly 7% of the electorate - will be unable to cast their votes, official data show.

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