Central African Republic President overthrown by rebels



Central African Republic President overthrown by rebels Bangui (Central African Republic): Rebels who invaded the capital two months after signing a peace agreement overthrew Central African Republic's president of a decade on Sunday, as fighters seized the presidential palace and declared him the country's former leader.

The rebels pushed further into the heart of the city, where they seized the presidential palace, according to witnesses and an adviser to longtime President Francois Bozize.

Hours later they could be seen traveling in trucks through the town.

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 that has long been wracked by rebellions and power grabs. The president himself took power in 2003 following a rebellion, and his tenure has been marked by conflict with myriad armed groups.

The rebels reached the outskirts of Bangui late yesterday.

Heavy gunfire echoed through the city today as the fighters made their way to the presidential palace, though the country's leader of a decade was not there at the time.

"Bozize left the city this morning," said Maximin Olouamat, a member of Bozize's presidential majority.

The adviser declined to say where the president had gone.

The last public news of his whereabouts was Friday, when state radio announced he had returned from a visit to South Africa.

Coverseas Worldwide Assistance, a Swiss-based crisis management firm that has contacts on the ground, said it believed Bozize was headed toward neighboring Congo.

Bangui is located along the Oubangui River that separates the two countries.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende, however, said he had no knowledge of Bozize crossing into Congo.

Rebels from several armed groups that have long opposed Bozize joined forces in December and began seizing towns across the sparsely populated north of this former French colony.

PTI