Burkina Faso holds election 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) - Voters went to the polls in Burkina Faso on Sunday in a presidential election dominated by jihadist violence that will prevent voting in hundreds of villages.

President Roch Kabore is seeking a second five-year term, campaigning on achievements such as 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 al Qaeda and Islamic State has eclipsed everything and the violence has cost more than 2,000 lives this year alone.

After casting his vote in a school in Ouagadougou, Kabore told reporters: "I call on all Burkinabe to vote, whatever their leaning. It’s about the democracy of Burkina Faso, it’s about development, it’s about peace."

The electoral commission has said that 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 shows.

"We need someone who is going to bring peace to our country. The president needs a second mandate to end what has started," said 59-year-old secretarial worker Maimouna Tapsoba after voting in Ouagadougou.

Kabore faces stiff opposition from former finance minister and 2015 runner-up Zephirin Diabre as well as Eddie Komboigo, head of Blaise Campaore's party. Campaore was president for 27 years until the 2014 revolution.

Komboigo on Sunday joined Diabre in claiming the vote had been marred by fraud. Both vowed to challenge the results by filing a formal complaint on Monday. They have not provided evidence for their claims.

The election commission said some voters had experienced difficulties finding their polling stations but did not report wider disruptions.

Analysts expect a tight race that could go to a second round if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.

Provisional results from the first round are expected by the middle of the week.

(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Bate Felix, Kevin Liffey and David Goodman)

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