A factfile on the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic, which has been sliding into chaos since rebels took over in March, is a poverty-stricken country in the heart of equatorial Africa.

GEOGRAPHY: Its longest borders are with Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Its surface area is 622,984 square kilometres (240,324 square miles), making it a bit smaller than Afghanistan and a bit larger than Ukraine.

POPULATION: 4.5 million inhabitants in 2012 (World Bank).

CAPITAL: Bangui.

LANGUAGES: Sango and French.

RELIGION: About half the population is Christian. Much of the rest are animist and Muslim.

HISTORY: The former territory of Ubangi-Chari gained independence from the French on August 13, 1960, when David Dacko became head of state. He was overthrown by his cousin, Jean-Bedel Bokassa in 1965. Bokassa dissolved the National Assembly in 1966 and declared himself life president in 1972.

Dacko deposed Bokassa in a bloodless French-backed coup in 1979. He in turn was deposed in a bloodless coup led by General Andre Kolingba in 1981.

Kolingba's regime ended in 1993 with his defeat in presidential elections won by former prime minister Ange-Felix Patasse.

In March 2003, army chief Francois Bozize seized control, installed a broad-based transitional government and was elected president in 2005.

Bozize was re-elected in 2011, but the elections were considered flawed, and in January 2013 he agreed to a coalition government with leaders from the Seleka rebel grouping.

Two months later, rebel forces advanced on Bangui and Bozize fled the country.

In April 2013, a transitional council affirmed rebel leader Michel Djotodia as president.

ECONOMY: Subsistence farming dominates, while cotton and coffee are also grown for export. Diamonds and timber exports make up the best part of the Central African Republic's foreign earnings.

Income per capita (GNI): $490 (World Bank, 2012).

Gross domestic product (GDP): $2.14 billion (World Bank, 2012).

Poverty ratio: 62 percent of the population. (World Bank, 2008).