Bangui - Election officials began counting ballots Sunday after the Central African Republic voted in delayed legislative elections and a presidential run-off it hopes will bring peace after the worst sectarian violence since independence in 1960.
Voting took place under tight security with thousands of UN peacekeepers deployed across the country, but the polls apparently passed off peacefully.
"For the first time we have a true opportunity to turn our backs on war," said Paterne, a voter in his 40s, as he queued at a polling station in the capital Bangui.
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Vote counting began on Sunday evening in school classrooms where election officials used chalk to tally totals, according to an AFP reporter.
The first official results are not expected for several days.
The two men in the close presidential race are both former prime ministers who have campaigned on promises to restore security and boost the economy in the mineral-rich but chronically unstable and impoverished country.
'Act of love'
Anicet Georges Dologuele, a 58-year-old former central banker known as "Mr Clean" for his efforts to bring transparency to murky public finances, won the first round on December 30, taking 23.78 percent of the vote.
He faced Faustin Archange Touadera, a former maths professor, in the run-off. Also 58, Touadera was standing as an independent and surprised everyone by coming second in the first round with 19.4 percent.
Touadera's popularity stems from a measure he introduced as prime minister -- paying government salaries directly into bank accounts, ending decades of pay arrears and unpaid wages.
Dologuele wished voters a happy Valentine's Day as he cast his ballot in Bangui.
"Valentine's is a celebration of love, and I'd like Central Africans to see voting today as an act of love for their country."
Touadera, speaking to voters near the working-class neighbourhood of Boy Rabe, pitched himself as the people's candidate.
"I am confident of the outcome of the vote," he told supporters who were already addressing him as "president".
Central Africans also voted in a re-run of the last legislative election, also held on December 30, that was later annulled over numerous irregularities.
A total of 1,800 candidates were competing for 105 seats in the National Assembly.
Queues in the capital were noticeably thinner than in December, with barely half of eligible voters having cast their ballots less than two hours before polling stations were due to close at 1500 GMT.
Some polls did not close until an hour later, having opened late in the morning.
Voters in some parts of Bangui and the provinces complained of being turned away because their names were not on the list or because they were not carrying proof of identity.
But the head of the African Union election observation mission, Ousmane Ndene Ndiaye, praised the overall organisation of Sunday's polls.
"There were fewer mistakes" than in the first round, he said on national television.
The race for the presidency is expected to be tight.
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Dologuele has the backing of the candidate who came third in the first round while Touadera has the support of 22 other candidates who ran in December.
CAR's most recent episode of bloodletting was sparked by the March 2013 ousting of veteran president Francois Bozize, a Christian, by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance.
The coup triggered a series of revenge attacks involving Muslim forces and Christian vigilante groups known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) militias.
Thousands were slaughtered in the spiral of atrocities that drove about a tenth of the population of 4.8 million to flee their homes.
Both Dologuele and Touadera are Christians.
Turnout was high in December's elections, despite huge logistical problems. Some 1.3 million valid ballots were cast in a country with nearly two million registered voters.
The elections came after 93 percent of voters backed a constitutional referendum that cleared the way for the vote.
It also followed Pope Francis's groundbreaking trip to the former French colony in November, his first to a war zone, during which he made an impassioned plea for peace and reconciliation.