Central African Republic MPs elect Catherine Samba-Panza

Catherine Samba-Panza Businesswoman Catherine Samba-Panza is seen as politically neutral

Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, 59, has been elected interim president of the Central African Republic, making her the first woman to hold the post.

She beat her rival Desire Kolingba in the second round of voting by the interim parliament.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting on Monday to send troops to CAR, diplomatic sources said.

Violence has continued, with two Muslim men killed and burnt in the capital Bangui on Sunday.

Nearly a million people have been forced from their homes - 20% of the population - by the conflict between Muslims and Christians.

Thomas Fessy reports from Bangui: ''In the absence of government, angry mobs now rule the streets''

In her victory speech, Ms Samba-Panza urged Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, and Muslim fighters in the ex-Seleka rebel movement to end the bloodshed.

"I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka - they should not have fear. I don't want to hear any more talk of murders and killings,'' she said, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Cheers broke out in the National Transitional Council, which serves as an interim parliament, when Ms Samba-Panza's victory was announced.

Who is Catherine Samba-Panza?

  • Appointed mayor of Bangui by interim government - accepted by both Seleka rebels and their opponents
  • Successful businesswoman and corporate lawyer
  • Christian but seen as politically neutral
  • Chaired national dialogue in 2003
  • Born 26 June 1954 in Chad - father from Cameroon and mother from CAR

"Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion," she is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Ms Samba-Panza succeeds CAR's first Muslim leader Michel Djotodia, who resigned on 10 January under pressure from regional leaders and the former colonial power, France, over his failure to curb the conflict.

She is a Christian but the successful businesswoman is seen as politically neutral.

She was accepted by both sides when she was proposed as Bangui's mayor under the interim administration.

There are currently about 4,000 African troops and 1,600 French troops in CAR to help end the violence.

They will be bolstered by about 500 troops that EU foreign ministers have decided to deploy, AFP reports.

Bodies buried

Ms Samba-Panza won 75 votes in the run-off, against 53 for Mr Kolingba, the son of a former president.

The election went to a second round after Ms Samba-Panza failed to secure an outright majority in the first round.

Six other candidates were knocked out in the first round.

About 129 members of the 135-seat council took part in the secret ballot, AFP reports.

Map showing the location of the Central African Republic and the countries that border it

CAR has a Christian majority and a minority Muslim population.

Mr Djotodia seized power in a rebellion last March, leading to attacks and counter-attacks between members of the two groups.

About 1,000 people were killed in December alone.

Although the clashes seemed to die down immediately after Mr Djotodia quit, more violence emerged later.

In Sunday's attack, a Christian mob killed two Muslims and set their bodies alight at a roundabout in the capital.

They told the BBC's Thomas Fessy in Bangui that they were avenging the murder of a Christian. It is unclear whether the men had played any part in the violence or were targeted simply for being Muslim.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had taken 25 very seriously injured people to hospital in Bangui.

In a statement issued from its headquarters in Geneva, it added that fresh inter-communal violence had flared up in north and north-western areas of the country.

Red Cross workers had buried 50 bodies discovered over the past 48 hours in the north-west, it said.

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