Burkina votes in second election since 2014 revolution with around 400,000 people unable to vote due to violence.
Voters in Burkina Faso are heading to the polls in a presidential election dominated by militant 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 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 militants groups with links to al Qaeda and Daesh 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.
"We need someone who is going to bring peace to our country. The president needs a second mandate to end what has started," said secretary Maimouna Tapsoba, 59, who wiped purple ink from her finger after voting in Ouagadougou.
Small numbers of early voters waited in a large sandy schoolyard to cast their ballots after polls opened at 0600 GMT (6 a.m. Local Time).
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 percent of the electorate - will be unable to cast their votes, official data show.
The president's two main challengers are 2015's runner-up, veteran opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, and Eddie Komboigo, standing for the party of former president Blaise Compaore.
Compaore, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2014 after 27 years in power, is now in exile but some voters are nostalgic for his regime.
Diabre told reporters on Saturday that "there is a huge operation orchestrated by those in power to carry out a massive fraud" so as to give Kabore a first-round victory.
"We will not accept results marred by irregularity," added Diabre, surrounded at a press conference by five of the other 11 opposition candidates, including Komboigo.
Kabore can avoid a run-off by winning more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round – as he did in the last election in 2015.
The three leading candidates all wrapped up their campaigns on Friday, with Komboigo telling a rally in the capital Ouagadougou that Compaore would "return with all honours".
Kabore meanwhile filled Ouagadougou's largest stadium with tens of thousands of supporters wearing his ruling party's orange colours.
Campaigning and bloodshed
The campaigning ran alongside continued bloodshed and the fear of jihadist attacks on voting day was growing.
Fourteen soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north claimed by the Daesh terrorist group earlier this month, one of the deadliest attacks on the military in the five-year insurgency.
"The #humanitarian & #security situation in Burkina Faso became catastrophic in 2019. Worse, 2020 is on track to surpass 2019"@rmaghrebi analyses the first 9 months of 2020 in #BurkinaFaso & provides an overview in advance of the November 22 elections 🔗https://t.co/mOIO1k3vD5 pic.twitter.com/d6xrU8PRTB— Policy Center for the New South (@PolicyCenterNS) November 20, 2020
Days later, the Daesh propaganda arm published a picture of two fighters killing a man wearing an army uniform – but the military denied there had been a new attack.
Militant violence in the north – as in neighbouring Sahel states Mali and Niger – has become intertwined with clashes between ethnic groups.
The Fulani community has in particular been targeted for recruitment by militants, and attacks regularly spark reprisal attacks, continuing the cycle of violence.
Humanitarian groups have condemned massacres of Fulani civilians by pro-government militias or the army.
Almost all of Kabore's challengers have called for dialogue with the jihadists to be explored – a suggestion Kabore has emphatically rejected.
Around 6.5 million people will vote in Sunday's election, but not in nearly 1,500 of the country's 8,000 villages, nor in 22 of more than 300 communes, because of the security risks.