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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 14:19 GMT
Congo hails CAR coup leader
President Patasse decorating General Bozize in September 2001
Bozize, right, says he is preparing new elections

The Congolese foreign minister has praised the leader of the coup in the Central African Republic, despite the condemnation from the African Union.

Rodolphe Adada was speaking after he and his Gabonese counterpart held talks in Bangui with General Francois Bozize, who overthrew the elected government on Saturday and suspended the constitution.

The African Union says it will not recognise governments who came to power unconstitutionally and some officials suggest the CAR may be suspended.

The World Food Programme has said that crowds of hungry people have looted tons of food from their warehouses after they over-powered a head guard, broke the gates and rushed in.

Presidential silence

Meanwhile, Chad has sent an extra 100 troops to bolster a regional peacekeeping force in Bangui.
We believe that the Central African Republic can trust a man who says the kind of thing that we have heard
Rodolphe Adada, Congo's foreign minister

General Bozize had appealed for extra peacekeepers in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Cemac) force to help restore order and end looting.

He said they would allow new presidential elections to be held as quickly as possible and parliamentary elections "if necessary".

After meeting General Bozize, Mr Adada said: "He spoke of openness, of reconciliation. Heads of state are most interested in this vision, because this country has suffered a great deal from disunity."

"We believe that the Central African Republic can trust a man who says the kind of thing that we have heard," said Mr Adada, whose country currently chairs Cemac.

AU Secretary General Amara Essy strongly denounced the coup and said that the organisation would meet shortly to discuss how to respond to the situation.

No word has so far been heard from the ousted President, Ange-Felix Patasse who has taken refuge in neighbouring Cameroon.

Looting spree

Following the looting of its warehouses, the WFP launched a new appeal for food aid.

"Eyewitnesses say it was as though half of the population of Bangui had converged on the warehouse complex. It must have been like ants carrying away the food", WFP country director, David Bulman said.

One resident said rebels had opened fire and killed some of the looters.

One woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP after returning to Paris: "They looted all the houses, the shops, the government offices. They burned down the ministries."

General Bozize has freed a group of prisoners, including a journalist, jailed by Mr Patasse, reports the French news agency, AFP. Hospital sources have reported that around 50 people have been killed since the coup began last week.

France has sent 300 soldiers to take control of the airport in the capital, Bangui, to help evacuate foreigners.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department urged General Bozize "to take steps toward national reconciliation that will lead to a democratically elected government".

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

After Libyan troops left CAR earlier this year, he asked for military backing from his neighbours and France.

Hyun Sung Khang, WFP spokeswoman on Focus on Africa
"They were hungry crowds that overan the warehouse"

CAR: A classic African coup
18 Mar 03 |  Africa
Fear grips looted Bangui
18 Mar 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Central African Republic
05 Jul 02 |  Country profiles

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