Gunfire, grenade explosions and threats of violence prevented many from voting on the first day of a constitutional referendum intended to help end nearly three years of instability in the Central African Republic. A Red Cross official said five people were killed and 34 others were wounded during clashes in the capital Bangui. Voting was carried over to a second day.

Fighters armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades launched several attacks in what General Bala Keita, commander of Minusca (the UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic), described as an attempt by "spoilers" to block the vote. Minusca soldiers, brought in to protect poll workers and voters, came under fire in the mainly Muslim PK5 district of the city. A grenade exploded near a polling station in the northern Gobongo neighbourhood of Bangui. In Kaga Bandoro in the country's north, an armed group threatened to kill people who went to vote. In the central town of Bria, voting materials were set on fire.

Central African Republic referendum
Muslim men lean on a balcony of the Baya Dombia school moments before shots rang outMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
People five as shots are heard at a school used as a polling station in the PK5 area of BanguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
People take cover as gunfire is directed towards the Baya Dombia school where voters were gatheredMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A Senegalese soldier from the MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in Central African Republic, runs for cover as shots ring out at the Baya Dombia school in the mostly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood of BaguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A woman suffers a seizure as shots are heard at the school being used as a polling stationLuca Sola/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Men carry a woman who passed out when shots were heardLuca Sola/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Wounded people lie on mattresses at the General Hospital in BanguiLuca Sola/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Members of the Muslim self-defence group secure voting operations at the Koudoukou school in the PK5 area of Bangui. A splinter group had disrupted the delivery of electoral materialMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A soldier of the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA contingent guards a polling station in BanguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A Burundian soldier of the UN peacekeeping force uses a metal detector at the entrance of a polling station in the PK5 district of BanguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Voters queue at a polling station at the Koudoukou school in the PK5 district of BanguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A polling station worker hands over a document to an electoral commission officialLuca Sola/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Voters cast their ballots for the referendum at a polling station in BanguiMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Voters queue to collect their cards at the polling station at the Koudoukou schoolMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
Yoters queue at a polling station in Bangui to cast their ballots for the constitutional referendumMarco Longari/AFP
Central African Republic referendum
A man votes at the polling station at the Koudoukou schoolMarco Longari/AFP

The former French colony descended into chaos in early 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized control in the majority-Christian nation, committing abuses that led to reprisals by Christian anti-balaka militias. Thousands were killed in the ensuing violence and roughly one-fifth of the population were forced to flee their homes. Two successive interim governments, as well as thousands of UN and French peacekeepers, have struggled to stop the fighting and disarm militias.

The proposed constitution limits the power of the president and increases that of the parliament, creating a senate to compliment the already existing national assembly. It also establishes a Special Criminal Court to try serious crimes.