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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 17:23 GMT
CAR coup strongly condemned
President Patasse decorating General Bozize in September 2001
Bozize (r) once put down a coup against Patasse (l)

The African Union has strongly condemned the coup d'etat which took place in the Central African Republic over the weekend.

France has already evacuated 80 people, including 60 of its nationals, following the rebel take-over of the capital, Bangui.

At least eight people were killed when supporters loyal to the sacked army chief General Francois Bozize marched into the city on Saturday, according to hospital and military sources.

The BBC's Joseph Benamsse said on Monday that people remained wary of rebel soldiers firing into the air.

"We can still hear the sound of shooting in the street," he said.

He said that some people had tried to resume work, as the rebels had requested, but there was no public transport.

Some people are going into the city centre to see the damage and looting caused during the coup.

The African Union's top official, Amara Essy, said the organisation would meet shortly to discuss how to respond to the situation.

Three Congolese soldiers from the Central African Economic Community (Cemac) peacekeeping force stationed in the country were killed, said the organisation.

France's embassy in its former colony said it is trying to round up other French residents and foreigners who want to leave.

Stranded president

General Bozize has suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and imposed a curfew to run for 10 days. He said he would hold a democratic election but did not state when.

His fighters seized power "because of the mismanagement of the country and its inability to carry out its domestic responsibilities," he said on national radio.

He did not mention CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse, who has taken refuge in a hotel in Cameroon after he was forced to divert when rebels shot at his plane as he returned from a regional conference in Niger.

Government troops have been ordered back to their barracks to await further instructions.

According to witnesses, there has been widespread looting of government buildings and of the private homes of the prime minister and president.

Some people, however, have fled their homes, including government ministers, who are reported to be taking refuge in foreign embassies.

The rebels, who are estimated to number about 1,000, apparently met little resistance from government forces when they entered the capital on Saturday.

Our correspondent says the rebels control the international airport and the presidential palace.

Coup survivor

Mr Patasse, who was democratically elected in 1993, has weathered numerous coup attempts.

Following an outbreak of fighting last October, the country was divided into two - between rebels loyal to Mr Bozize, and government troops.

Mr Patasse accused Chad of backing the rebels - a charge his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby denies.

Government troops regained control of the country this year, but the rebels remained at large in rural areas in the north, and in southern Chad.

In the face of opposition, Mr Patasse has increasingly relied on foreign military support.

Libyan support

In May 2001, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi surprised the international community when he sent troops to help the CAR president put down a coup attempt led by the former president, General Andre Kolingba.

The Libyan soldiers stayed on until the end of 2002, when they were replaced by a peacekeeping force of about 350 under the umbrella of the Central African Economic Community (Cemac).

Cemac troops had reportedly been controlling M'Poko airport which is now said to be in rebel hands.

Mr Patasse has also received backing from a Congolese rebel group - the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by Jean-Pierre Bemba - which controls the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They fled back to DR Congo when General Bozize's forces marched towards Bangui on Saturday.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Joseph Benamsse on BBC Network Africa
"People are really willing to go back to work."


Olivier Kamitatu of the rebel MLC on Focus on Africa
"We want to seize this opportunity to create stability"


Journalist Lucy Jones on Focus on Africa
"As head of the army, General Bozize was considered to be a very 'hands on' leader"



SEE ALSO:
Profile of Francois Bozize
16 Mar 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Central African Republic
05 Jul 02 |  Country profiles


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