CAR declares mourning period for unrest victims

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Reuters

Central African Republic's President Michel Djotodia seen in downtown Bangui on March 30, 2013. File photo: Alain Amontchi

Bangui, Central African Republic - Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia declared a three-day period of mourning from Sunday for the 300 recent victims of sectarian violence in Bangui.

“To honour the memory of our citizens who lost their lives during these tragic events, a three-day period of mourning will be observed,” he said on national radio.

At least 300 people were killed in Thursday's massacre and subsequent reprisals, the Red Cross has said, many of them clubbed or hacked to death.

The Central African Republic has descended into chaos since a motley coalition of rebel fighters known as Seleka overthrew the government in March and installed their own chief, Djotodia, as president Ä the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian country.

Djotodia has officially disbanded Seleka, but has proved unable to control the fighters who swept him to the presidency.

The president expressed his condolences to “all Central Africans”. He assured in his radio address that “the situation is under control” and urged people to return to their normal routines.

Djotodia also expressed his gratitude to France which has sent in troops to patrol the Central African Republic's tense capital.

Around 200 French soldiers crossed the border from Cameroon to a triumphant welcome from thousands of Central Africans on Saturday. They complete the 1 200-strong deployment to the former French colony.

The Central African Republic leader also decreed a separate period of mourning, to run from December 13-15, in honour of former South African leader Nelson Mandela who died Thursday aged 95.

“The whole world mourns one of its heroes,” he said.

French troops, some of them on foot, patrolled the capital in a visible show of strength. On Saturday, a French armoured vehicle took a symbolic swing past the front of the presidential palace.

A fighter jet flew low over the city, where bodies still lay abandoned outside the parliament building.

Red Cross staff continue to pick up dead and mutilated bodies from the streets, but have been overwhelmed by the scale of the task.

However, the situation appeared to have improved since Friday. Residents contacted by telephone said only sporadic gunfire was heard overnight Friday, in stark contrast to the intense violence of the two previous nights. - Sapa-AFP


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