France Saves The Christians From Muslim "Looting, Killing, And Kidnapping" In The Central African Republic

Central African Leader’s Exit Sets Off Rejoicing in the Streets


BANGUI, Central African Republic — Joyful crowds poured onto the streets of this capital on Friday after the president of the strife-torn Central African Republic resigned under pressure from regional leaders.

Singing, dancing on the wide avenues, waving palm fronds and shouting slogans against the departing president, Michel Djotodia, the crowds briefly put a celebratory face on a battered city that has known mostly violence, upheaval and grief over the past year.

Mr. Djotodia, whose chaotic nine-month rule has been marked by the abuses of his mostly Muslim rebel movement, was pushed out after being summoned to neighboring Chad by its president, Idriss Déby Itno, a regional power broker who, along with other neighboring leaders, criticized him for failing to stop the continued sectarian violence in the country.

Mr. Djotodia’s rebels descended from the country’s remote north in March, overthrowing the government and unleashing what residents in the largely Christian south here have described as a reign of terror, including looting, killing and kidnapping.

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Demonstrators and a French soldier in Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, hours before the president, Michel Djotodia, was forced to resign. Eric Feferberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last month, Christian militias struck back. About 1,000 people have been killed, according to some estimates, and nearly a million have fled their homes as a result of the violence pitting Muslims against Christians, and northerners against southerners.

“Our country has never lived through anything like this,” Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, the Parliament leader who was named Friday to serve as interim president, said in an interview in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital, where the country’s leaders were meeting.

Noting that civil servants had not been paid in at least three months, Mr. Nguendet said the country was ready to “explode.” He will serve for two weeks until a new “transitional president” is chosen by the temporary Parliament.

Residents hoped Mr. Djotodia’s exit would be a turning point in the fortunes of their country, which has seen more coups and episodes of violence than free elections since it gained independence from France in 1960.

But pent-up anger over months of repression was still evident. Crowds rushed to loot a store owned by Muslims, and members of Mr. Djotodia’s rebel group, Seleka, were pursued in the streets. The Muslim prayer ritual was mocked in the streets.

“We are liberated,” yelled Ela Bozo, a market seller, dancing a jig.

“He’s killed a lot of Central Africans, and he certainly targeted the Christians much more; he’s a devil,” said Thibault Bomako, a 27-year-old student.

“It’s a great day for all Central Africans,” said Olivier Sandos Oualanga, a 27-year-old law student. “We are really, really happy. And we will really celebrate when all the Seleka leave.”

Mr. Déby, who is often accused of meddling in his much poorer neighbor’s affairs, made it clear that he was fed up with Mr. Djotodia’s handling of his own Muslim rebels and of the increasingly violent reaction against them by Christian militia groups.

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President Michel Djotodia of the Central African Republic, left, shook hands with assembled dignitaries as he departed for Chad on Wednesday. Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

Chadians residing in the Central African Republic have been among the victims; thousands of Mr. Déby’s Muslim citizens have been forced to flee the country. Revenge attacks against Muslims take place almost daily here.

France, also an important decision maker in the fortunes of its chronically unstable former colony, sent more than 1,000 troops in December after a new outbreak of violence, adding to the force permanently stationed in Bangui. France also made its displeasure with Mr. Djotodia known, and the French defense minister refused to meet with him on a recent visit.

This week, Mr. Déby convened other regional presidents, as well as Mr. Djotodia, in Ndjamena to attempt a resolution of the crisis afflicting his neighbor. The conference accepted Mr. Djotodia’s “resignation” in a statement on Friday, calling it a “highly patriotic decision to end the country’s paralysis,” and blasting the “passivity of the Central African political class faced with the crisis which has gripped the country.”

Mr. Déby even took the unusual step of flying the entire membership of the country’s transitional Parliament of 135 members to Ndjamena on Thursday night from Bangui, forcing them to work until the early hours of the morning Friday to come up with a solution.

Diplomats, opposition figures and analysts, conscious of enormous challenges facing the country — an economy that has stopped functioning, schools that have been closed for months, thousands of refugees and daily outbreaks of sectarian violence — greeted the news of Mr. Djotodia’s departure warily.

“This certainly shows a desire to step forward,” said Martin Ziguélé, a former prime minister. “Will it be effective and productive? We’ll know in the coming days. We are in a catastrophic situation.”

Reconciliation may not be easy. “Now we’ve got to detain the Seleka, and those who committed abuses must answer for them,” said Parfait Désiré Zoga, a shopkeeper.

Mr. Djotodia insisted that he was not eager to stay in power and was merely preparing the way for future elections. But he barricaded himself in his military camp high above the capital, and advisers had insisted that he was going to stay on.

On Friday morning, as people in Bangui awaited the news from Chad, residents took to the streets to proclaim their hatred of Mr. Djotodia, and their eagerness to see his departure.

“You take power and then you kill for nine months? That’s no good,” said one of the demonstrators, Guy-Roger Nambana, an artisan, as French soldiers watched warily. “He’s got to go.”