Nicolas Tiangaye: C.Africa PM and 'man of integrity'

Nicolas Tiangaye, who was prime minister in the ousted Central African regime and was reappointed by the coup leader Wednesday, is a celebrated lawyer and staunch defender of human rights who is widely respected.

Tiangaye was first appointed to head a unity government in January as part of a power-sharing deal that stopped a military advance by the Seleka rebel coalition threatening Francois Bozize's regime.

The accord was always fragile however and Seleka leader Michel Djotodia eventually made a final push on Bangui at the weekend. Bozize was forced into exile but Tiangaye kept his job.

"A man of integrity in a sea of corruption," says one diplomat. "He has integrity. His record is impeccable. He doesn't compromise," adds top opposition figure Martin Ziguele. "A good person," says Eric Massi, spokesman for the Seleka rebels. "We respect him," adds a member of government.

Not known for exuding charisma, Tiangaye is a freemason and opposition figure who speaks slowly and weighs every word and act.

Born in 1956 in the northwestern town of Bocaranga to a nurse father, he studied law in the capital Bangui and in France and earned his legal stripes in 1980.

Just six years later he made a name for himself by defending Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the extravagant former self-proclaimed emperor.

"At the time, there were six lawyers in Central Africa. I was the youngest. Two were already defending the civil parties, one didn't want to (defend Bokassa)," Tiangaye has said.

In 1989, he took up another high-profile case involving Bozize, who at the time was accused of conspiracy by the regime of the late president Andre Kolingba.

"I was doing my duty as a lawyer. He was acquitted, I don't regret it," Tiangaye said about Bozize, who would later become his "worst enemy", according to a Western diplomat.

In 1991, Tiangaye was forced to defend himself against a conspiracy charge. That same year the lawyer -- who says he was inspired by Mother Teresa -- founded the Central African Human Rights League that he led until 2004.

In the interim in 1996 he appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to defend Jean-Paul Akayesu, who was sentenced to life in prison for genocide.

-- 'Never won an election' --

After turning down a job as prime minister under ex-president Ange-Felix Patasse, Tiangaye threw himself into politics when the late leader was ousted by Bozize in a 2003 coup.

He presided over the national transition council and was one of the main authors of the current constitution, adopted through a referendum in 2004, which provided that the president could serve no more than two terms consecutively.

That put him at odds with Bozize: "At the time, we all saw where he was headed," Tiangaye said, adding that Bozize held a grudge against him.

Tiangaye charged that when he ran for deputy in 2005, Bozize "rigged the election so that my opponent would win. He didn't want me in the assembly".

Then in 2011, it was Bozize himself who ran against Tiangaye for deputy and "there too, he rigged the election," Tiangaye charged.

A regime member dismissed the allegations, saying "Tiangaye, he does well before the court and in Europe, but he's not popular. He's never won an election".

The opposition boycotted the second round of the legislative elections and called the presidential vote that same year "a farce", calling for a repeal.

When it was time for the coalition of parties demanding the annulment, the FARE-2011, to pick their coordinator, they chose a consensus-building figure: Tiangaye.

Today he is prime minister and has turned the page on his presidential ambitions, as the January Libreville agreement -- the three-way deal between the opposition, rebels and government that paved the way for his appointment -- forbids the prime minister from running for president.

Djotodia has suspended the constitution and said that fresh polls would not be held for another three years.

"Everyone can't be president! I want to lay the foundations of democracy in my country," Tiangaye said in January.

"I will thus have been useful to Central Africa. We've seen presidents who wind up in the rubbish bin of history."