Looting, fear spreads amid scenes of anarchy in Bangui

The people of Bangui may have welcomed the Seleka rebels at first, but the mood quickly shifted as anxiety spread amid widespread looting by gangs of armed men in the Central African Republic capital.

Homes, shops, restaurants and cars were all fair game for looters in scenes repeated across the city.

"There's a lot of looting by armed men. They break down the doors to go looting and then, afterwards, the people come and help themselves too," said Nicaise Kabissou, who lives in the city centre.

"We're scared. I don't go out anymore, I stay at home," he added.

A diplomatic source summed up the situation: "There's looting all over town".

In the city centre, an AFP reporter said the offices of mobile phone operators Orange and Telecel were sacked, with looters making off with everything from computer equipment to office tables and chairs.

Local youths seized the opportunity to steal mobile phones which they then sold on the streets.

Official buildings have not been spared either. The rebels attacked UNICEF's offices and some were seen at the wheel of cars sporting the United Nations logo.

Eric Massi, a spokesman for Seleka, had promised on Saturday that the rebel coalition "will have zero tolerance for any looting, exaction or settling of scores".

But that warning went unheeded on the ground.

"We're here, but we just watch them, we can't do anything", lamented Jean-Artur, a fridge repairman who witnessed several scenes of looting.

According to Eddy, a lorry driver, "the situation is serious. They've ransacked the country, and it's going to take 30 to 50 years for us to take off again."

As the day drew to a close, the electricity still had not been turned back on and people were afraid of being attacked in their own homes once night fell and the city was plunged into darkness.

On Sunday morning, the atmosphere had been significantly more optimistic, with many people welcoming the rebels into the capital.

"Now, we can finally breathe! Seleka has arrived and the 'You Know Us' (the nickname given to Bozize's circle) have disappeared!" yelled a young man as the rebels swept by.

When news filtered through that the presidential palace had fallen, people came out onto the streets shouting with joy and waving palm leaves to welcome the rebels, who responded by firing into the air.

After a decade in power, Bozize's legacy is an unstable country riddled with corruption, despite natural resources in the form of uranium, gold, oil and diamonds.