Ex-President Jean-Bedel Bokassa rehabilitated by CAR

Jean-Bedel Bokassa crowns himself emperor in Bangui in December 1977 Jean-Bedel Bokassa crowns himself emperor in Bangui in December 1977

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The former president of the Central African Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, has been formally rehabilitated by presidential decree.

President Francois Bozize published the decree as part of the country's 50th anniversary of independence, returning Bokassa "all his rights".

Bokassa was overthrown in 1979 after 14 years in power and died in 1996.

He was variously accused of being a cannibal and feeding opponents to lions and crocodiles in his personal zoo.

President Bozize, who himself seized power in a coup in 2003, said his former boss had "given a great deal for humanity".

Bokassa was "a son of the nation recognised by all as a great builder", Mr Bozize said.

"He built the country but we have destroyed what he built," the president added as he awarded Bokassa's widow, Catherine, a state medal of honour.

"This rehabilitation of rights erases penal condemnations, particularly fines and legal costs, and stops any future incapacities that result from them," the decree said.

Heart attack

Bokassa came to power in a coup in 1965 and ruled ruthlessly, torturing and killing political rivals.

He named himself emperor in 1976 but was overthrown in 1979 when his guards killed scores of schoolchildren during a period of unrest in the capital, Bangui.

The children were protesting against Bokassa's proclamation that they would have to wear expensive uniforms only sold by a company that belonged to one of his 17 wives.

Crowds vented their hatred on a giant statue of him.

For most of his rule Bokassa was backed by former colonial power France.

Sentenced to death for murder and embezzlement, Bokassa spent five years in prison before dying of a heart attack in the capital Bangui in 1996.

Despite the excesses of his rule there had been a movement to rehabilitate him, with a number of politicians pointing to periods of stability and patriotism.

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