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Violence erupts in Bangui despite departure of ex-rebel leader

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Deadly violence including reports of cannibalism and widespread looting erupted in the capital of the Central African Republic after the resignation of its ex-rebel president, as an airlift of foreigners stranded in the strife-torn country began on Saturday.

Sporadic gunfire was heard overnight in Bangui with the shooting leaving at least five people dead, according to the latest toll reported by the Central African Red Cross.

There has also been looting throughout the city with crowds breaking down the doors of shops, many of them belonging to Muslims, reflecting the sectarian nature of the strife that has wracked the country, AFP correspondents reported.

"Those who were looted when the (mainly Muslim) Seleka (rebels) arrived (in March last year) are now looting in turn," said the head of the local Red Cross, pastor Antoine Mbaobogo.

Some of the thieves allegedly committed acts of cannibalism, witnesses told AFP.

One resident of the capital, still in shock, related an incident on Tuesday when a Muslim man was attacked by a group who cut him up with a machete.

"One of the individuals took hold of an arm and went and bought some bread and starting chewing on the flesh, along with his bread," said 35-year-old Jean-Sylvestre Tchya.

"The scene made many people vomit, and some cried out in horror," he said.

Another witness, Alain Gbabobou, said he saw a man pick up the head and wrap it up carefully, saying he would "feast on it" later.

Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration on Saturday began an airlift of thousands of foreigners out of the strife-torn country following appeals from neighbouring countries. The first flight evacuated some 800 Chadians.

More than 60,000 people from other African nations have asked for help at their embassies in the CAR, including Chad, Niger, Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, an IOM statement said.

On Saturday morning in Bangui a student who gave his name as Berson told AFP that looting had been going on since Friday, when Michel Djotodia stepped down as president under intense diplomatic pressure.

"It's the shops of Muslims that have been looted in this neighbourhood," Berson said. "There are a lot of Seleka (ex-rebels) in this area. They have to disarm them quickly. If not it's carnage," he added.

Djotodia, the first Muslim leader in the majority-Christian nation, had come under fire for failing to rein in the rebels who brought him to power in March 2013 and whose abuses triggered retaliatory violence by Christian militias.

A special regional summit in Chad called to try to restore peace in the CAR raised hopes that the resignation of Djotodia along with that of Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye would ease the tensions in the country.

But signs of sectarian conflict remained in Bangui, where a mosque was the target of a group of young men who looted and dismantled the building, taking away bricks and roofing.

"It's impossible to live with the Muslims. We don't want Arabs in Central Africa," one of the looters told AFP.

Ten months of violence have displaced a fifth of the country's population, and the sectarian flare-up has killed more than 1,000 people in the past month alone, despite former colonial power France's military intervention and the presence of an African peacekeeping force.

Djotodia successor talks Monday

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the African Union to speedily provide promised troops to help curb the "terrible crisis" in the impoverished country.

France has deployed 1,600 troops in the country to support the African Union MISCA force, which is meant to have up to 6,000 troops but has not yet reached 3,500.

European nations on Friday agreed in principle on a plan to launch a joint military operation in the Central African Republic, with a final decision expected on January 20, an EU source said.

Candidates to replace Djotodia have yet to emerge, but the interim parliament, whose members returned from a regional crisis summit in Chad on Saturday, is due to hold a special session on Monday.

The head of the transitional body, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, will be temporary head of state for a maximum of 15 days.

With much of the landlocked country's population in need of food aid, a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Bangui's overcrowded camps and in the vast hinterland.

The United Nations has warned that both ex-Seleka rebels and CAR former soldiers have crossed into the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo, causing local residents to flee.

France warned before sending troops last month that the Central African Republic -- which has been plagued by coups and civil unrest since independence in 1960 -- risked becoming a Somalia-style "failed state".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140111/violence-erupts-bangui-despite-departure-ex-rebel-leader