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CAR rebels ‘seize’ presidential palace


President Francois Bozize flees to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo as rebels take capital, Bangui.

congo_basin_countries(Al Jazeera) – Rebels in the Central African Republic have said that they seized the presidential palace in the capital Bangui after heavy fighting.

Sylvanne Omar Pordass, a spokesperson of the Seleka rebels, told Al Jazeera that the president had fled into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Government officials also confirmed that Bozize had fled into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The rebels control the town,” said Gaston Mackouzangba, a spokesman for the president. “I hope there will not be any reprisals.”

A foreign ministry official also confirmed to Al Jazeera that the rebels had taken control of the national TV and radio stations. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia is expected to make an address.

The rebels resumed hostilities this week in the mineral-rich former French colony, vowing to topple Bozize, whom they accuse of breaking a January peace agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.

The loose umbrella group of insurgents fought its way to the gates of the capital late last year after accusing Bozize of failing to honour an earlier peace deal to give its fighters cash and jobs in exchange for laying down their arms.

“I think now that Bangui has fallen and the president is out, the citizens are hopeful there will be no more military violence,” said Michael Amoah, an African political analyst based in London. “And the current prime minister stays in place; he is the choice of the rebels anyway.”

A spokesman for the prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, on Saturday called on the rebels to accept talks to “avoid a bloodbath.”

Tiangaye, an opposition figure, was only appointed as part of the peace deal brokered between the government and the rebels in January, an agreement that broke down last week.

‘No direct threat’

The violence is the latest in a series of rebel incursions, clashes and coups that have plagued the landlocked nation in the heart of Africa since its independence from France in 1960.

France, which already has some 250 soldiers stationed in the Central African Republic, sent in another company of 150 troops to secure Bangui’s international airport, a diplomatic source said.

“We have asked our citizens to remain at home. For the time being, there is nothing to be worried about,” said the source. “There is no direct threat to our citizens at the moment.”

But the foreign ministry said on Sunday that France has no plans to send additional troops to the country.

The airport, close to the heart of the capital, would be an important exit point for France’s 1,200 citizens who live in CAR, mostly in Bangui.

South Africa has sent some 400 soldiers to train Bozize’s army, joining hundreds of peacekeepers from the Central African regional bloc. Regional peacekeeping sources said the South Africans had fought alongside the Central African Republic’s army.

State radio had announced late on Friday that South Africa would boost its troop presence after Bozize met his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in Pretoria.

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