BANGUI, Central African Republic – Rebels overthrew Central African Republic’s president of a decade on Sunday, seizing the presidential palace and declaring that the desperately poor country has “opened a new page in its history.” The country’s president fled the capital, while extra French troops moved to secure the airport, officials said.
The rebels’ invasion of the capital came just two months after they had signed a peace agreement that would have let President Francois Bozize serve until 2016. That deal unraveled in recent days, prompting the insurgents’ advance into Bangui and Bozize’s departure to a still unpublicized location.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the unconstitutional seizure of power and called for the swift restoration of constitutional order, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The U.N. chief appealed for calm and reiterated that the January peace agreements “remain the most viable framework to ensure durable peace and stability in the country,” Nesirky said. Ban also expressed deep concern at reports of serious human rights violations.
Witnesses and an adviser to Bozize said rebel trucks were traveling throughout the town on Sunday hours after the palace was seized. Former colonial power France confirmed the developments, issuing a statement that said French President Francois Hollande “has taken note of the departure of President Francois Bozize.”
“Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history,” said a communique signed by Justin Kombo Moustapha, secretary-general of the alliance of rebel groups known as Seleka.
“The political committee of the Seleka coalition, made up of Central Africans of all kinds, calls on the population to remain calm and to prepare to welcome the revolutionary forces of Seleka,” it said.
Central African Republic, a nation of 4.5 million, has long been wracked by rebellions and power grabs. Bozize himself took power in 2003 following a rebellion, and his tenure has been marked by conflict with myriad armed groups.
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