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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 17:18 GMT
CAR: A classic African coup
By Lucy Jones
BBC News Online

The rebel take-over in the Central African Republic has all the makings of a textbook African coup.

The president was out the country; the army is unpaid and the population embittered by economic hardship.

Bangui, CAR
Calm has not yet returned to Bangui
While President Ange-Felix Patasse attended a conference in Niger, supporters of a sacked former army head General Francois Bozize attacked the capital, Bangui.

Numbering 1,000 or so, they drove into the city in four-wheel-drive cars meeting almost no opposition from the army which fled.

As Mr Patasse's plane approached Bangui's M'Poko airport it was shot at forcing a diversion to Cameroon.

He and his wife are currently stranded in the Hilton hotel in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Holding onto power

But whether General Bozize is successful or not depends on his next moves.

There is currently widespread looting in the capital which is rapidly losing him support.

Initially welcoming the rebel troops, people danced in the streets but now they are choosing to stay at home.

General Bozize will have to bring about calm if he is to win back their trust.

President Patasse decorating General Bozize in September 2001
Bozize (r) once put down a coup against Patasse (l)
This will mostly depend on the stance taken by the police, gendarme and army.

The general has met the head of the army Colonel Antoine Gambi and police chiefs which suggests they may support him but their forces will have to return to work.

Facing months of salary arrears civil servants have long hoped for a regime change to improve their economic situation.

Civil Unrest

If General Bozize fails to deliver he will face the demonstrations and strikes that plagued Mr Patasse's rule.

Anyone who wants to rule must seek the consent of the people
Joseph Kaifala, Sierra Leone

Last autumn, the CAR was on the verge of qualifying for an IMF/World Bank loan which it was hoped would turn the country around.

Prime Minister Martin Ziguele had won international approval for an anti-corruption campaign which led to the imprisonment of his finance minister and for also starting a privatisation process.

A large part of the aid package would have been used to pay public salaries as a means to kick-start the economy.

Donors will now have to be courted once more which may prove difficult given their widespread condemnation of the undemocratic change in government.

General Bozize could also run into trouble at home and on the international stage if it emerges that he received Chadian backing.

Residents are questioning the presence of Arabic-speaking turbaned Chadians who are patrolling the streets with the general's men.

The Chadians could become as unpopular as the MLC-rebel troops from northern Democratic Republic of Congo, who were stationed in Bangui to help the government push back the rebels - if the looting continues.

There is also an opposition in the CAR formed from exiled leaders who are based in France and vocal alliances within the country that the general will have to placate.

General Bozize says he is committed to the democratic process and will hold democratic elections - a pledge that international aid may become dependent upon.

In order to keep his post he will have to deliver on at least some of these issues.

Joseph Benamse on BBC Network Africa
"The looting is still continuing."

Fear grips looted Bangui
18 Mar 03 |  Africa
CAR coup strongly condemned
17 Mar 03 |  Africa
Profile of Francois Bozize
16 Mar 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Central African Republic
05 Jul 02 |  Country profiles

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