Bozize: onetime coup leader facing rebels

Francois Bozize, the embattled president of the Central African Republic where rebels have swept into the capital Bangui, himself came to power by force of arms.

The taciturn soldier known as "Boz", 66, was trained by the country's former French colonial masters and has a chequered history of exile, imprisonment, torture and coup bids.

Bozize's whereabouts were unknown on Sunday after rebels from the Seleka coalition launched an assault on the capital Bangui and said they had seized control of the presidential palace.

After Bozize and his troops ousted Ange-Felix Patasse in 2003, Bozize reversed a decision not to run for office and won a presidential poll in May 2005 on a promise of rebuilding the mineral-rich but deeply poor landlocked nation.

He was re-elected in 2011.

Patasse was deeply unpopular by the time of his ouster, having presided over years of almost ceaseless civil discontent, strikes for unpaid wages and widespread banditry in the north.

Bozize was born on October 14, 1946, in Gabon, where his father was a paramilitary policeman under French colonial rule.

His family hails from the north of the Central African Republic and the largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.

Undertaking a military career, the young man came to the attention of the notorious Jean-Bedel Bokassa, another Central African leader who came to power in a coup.

Bokassa had himself proclaimed "emperor" and raided the coffers to his own ends.

The story goes that Bokassa first noticed Bozize when he came to blows with a French mercenary who had not shown sufficient respect to the emperor.

Under Bokassa, who was later deposed in a French-backed coup, Bozize became the Central African Republic's youngest general, at age 32.

When Bokassa fell in 1979, Bozize lost some of his standing, but he left for France to undergo military training.

By 1981, he was back in circulation when General Andre Kolingba toppled David Dacko, who had himself overthrown Bokassa.

Bozize was to serve as defence and information minister in two successive regimes. But after taking part in an unsuccessful bid to topple Kolingba in 1982 he went into exile in neighbouring Chad and later Benin.

Benin extradited him in 1989, and he was jailed for subversion and tortured. In 1990 he narrowly escaped being murdered in his prison cell, but he was freed the following year.

In 1993, he stood as a candidate in the presidential elections that brought Patasse to power; Bozize took only one percent of the vote, a fact his detractors have made much of ever since.

Patasse nevertheless appointed him head of the country's armed forces in 1997.

But in October 2001, he was forced to flee after a failed bid to overthrow Patasse. Bozize again crossed into Chad and from there went into exile in France under an accord reached in the Gabonese capital Libreville.

After another failed coup attempt against Patasse in October 2001, Bozize finally succeeded in seizing power two years later, marching unchallenged into Bangui while the president was on an overseas trip.

Bozize is said to lack charisma, but he presents himself as a "builder" and "patriot", while his critics say he is mainly interested in the trappings of power.

Upon his re-election in 2011, Bozize said he hoped to rebuild the CAR by harnessing its as yet underexploited resources, in particular oil, uranium and gold.

The country has been notoriously unstable, with large areas prey to rebel movements, bandit groups and uprisings.