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The Central African president's fate hung in the balance on Friday as regional leaders and his entire parliament gathered in neighbouring Chad in a bid to end a spiralling cycle of sectarian violence.
A special summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) broke off at 03.00 GMT, requesting that the Central African Republic's interim parliament work through the night to hammer out a proposal on President Michel Djotodia's future.
All 135 lawmakers, flown in to Chad on Thursday, were given until Friday morning to find a solution that the 10-nation regional body would then discuss, an AFP correspondent reported.
Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, Central Africa's perennial kingmaker, had opened the summit with stark words seen as a push to remove Djotodia, or at least to curb his powers.
“The CAR is suffering deeply from the actions of its own sons, who are dragging their country down into a war that jeopardises its future,” he said.
Deby called for “concrete and decisive action” to halt the violence that has killed more than 1 000 people in the past month.
Djotodia has come under fire for failing to stem clashes between the mainly Muslim former rebels who brought him to power last year and self-defence militias formed by the Christian majority.
“The solution must come from the Central Africans themselves,” ECCAS secretary general Allami Ahmat, a former Chadian foreign minister, said Thursday.
“Neither ECCAS nor the international community have come to change the regime... It is up to those responsible (in Central African Republic) to decide the fate of their country.”
Thousands of Central Africans voted with their feet on Friday morning, taking to the streets of the capital Bangui to demand that Djotodia stand down.
“We want Djotodia to stand down. We need someone new to lead the country,” said one protester, while another said Djotodia should “stay in N'Djamena”, accusing him of responsibility for a “massacre”.
Djotodia last year became the poor landlocked country's first Muslim president, but is due to step down when a transition period expires in a year's time and is not expected to run in subsequent presidential polls.
Central African Republic sank into chaos after rebels of his Seleka coalition ended Francois Bozize's 10-year rule in March 2013 with a coup.
Djotodia officially disbanded the group but some rebels went rogue.
His former fighters went on killing, raping and pillaging, prompting Christians to form vigilante groups in response and sparking a deadly cycle of revenge attacks.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said ahead of the summit that African leaders would be taking “decisions” on the future of Djotodia.
“There are certainly decisions to be made, with regard to the political transition and the fact the state is paralysed. We shall see what our African friends decide,” Fabius told France 2 television on Thursday.
“It is not France's place to dictate decisions. We are here to offer support,” added Fabius, whose country last month deployed 1 600 troops alongside an African peacekeeping force to its former colony.
In Bangui, the Central African communications minister slapped down any talk of Djotodia's departure, saying it would only worsen the crisis.
There are fears the unrest is spreading through the region with the United Nations warning that both ex-Seleka rebels and former Central African soldiers have crossed into the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo, causing residents to flee.
Many former CAR soldiers fled their home country when the Seleka rebels launched their coup. The rebels in turn were pushed out when French and African peacekeepers arrived in the country in December.
Although mass slaughters have mostly ceased amid frequent patrols by the peacekeepers, sporadic killings carry on almost every night in Central Africa.
A humanitarian disaster is also looming with 100 000 people who fled their homes crammed into a tent city near Bangui airport, close to the peacekeepers' bases.
UNICEF has warned of a potential disaster in overcrowded camps in the capital, where there have been several cases of measles, which could be deadly.
EU nations are considering whether to join in the French and African operations in Central African Republic, with a meeting on the issue scheduled for Friday. - Sapa-AFP