Central African Republic coup leaders 'must remain calm'

Rebels in the Central African Republic are reported to have seized the presidential palace, Richard Forrest reports

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France has urged restraint on coup leaders in the Central African Republic, who have stormed the capital and overthrown the president.

French President Francois Hollande, who has sent hundreds of troops to Bangui, said the rebel fighters must respect the people.

Mr Hollande confirmed that President Francois Bozize had fled CAR. He is believed to be in DR Congo.

The rebels had demanded he step down, saying he broke several agreements.

They launched an initial rebellion in December, saying that the government had not honoured a 2007 peace deal whereby fighters who surrendered would be paid.

Archive photo of CAR President Francois Bozize, January 2013 Francois Bozize came to power in a coup in 2003

After weeks of fighting in which tens of thousands were displaced, the rebels agreed to join a power-sharing government.

But earlier this week the rebellion flared up again over their demands that political prisoners be freed.

They seized the capital quickly, and Mr Bozize fled early on Sunday.

Widespread looting

Nelson Ndjadder, a spokesman for one of the factions that make up the Seleka coalition, said CAR could now move into a transition towards a democratic election.

"With the taking of Bangui and the departure of Bozize, the main objective of our struggle has been realised," he said.

"Central Africans must meet around a table to decide the path for their common future."

Mr Hollande said all parties should "remain calm and hold talks on a national unity government".

He urged the armed groups to "respect the population".

France, the former colonial power, said it was sending more troops to Bangui to bolster its force of 250 already there, saying they would protect French citizens.

Health workers in the capital say the city is in chaos, with their work being hampered by frequent power cuts.

Map showing CAR

The Red Cross said hospitals were struggling to cope with the flow of people injured in the fighting.

Amy Martin of the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA told the BBC that looting was widespread.

"The situation in town is chaotic... even a paediatric hospital we understand has been looted," she said.

South African peacekeepers, in CAR to support government troops, suffered casualties but failed to stop the rebel advance.

Ms Martin said the peacekeepers were now planning to leave the country.

Mr Bozize is believed to have fled across the border to the Congolese town of Zongo.

He came to power in a coup in 2003, but won subsequent elections in 2005 and 2011.

CAR, which has a population of about 4.5 million, has been hit by a series of rebellions since independence from France in 1960.

It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, despite its considerable mineral resources.

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