More than 400,000 people have been displaced in CAR since Seleka rebels - many who are Muslims from neighboring countries Chad and Sudan - seized political power in March 2013, ousting then-president Francois Bozize. Shortly after the transition, the majority Christian population was subject to increasing incidents of rapes, murders and looting. Michel Djotodia, rebel leader turned interim president, has largely lost control of his gunmen. Christians fled reprisals following a failed offensive on Bangui the first week of December. A French initiative to disarm all fighters on both sides has weakened Seleka’s influence in the capital, leading to counter-attacks by Christian militias.
President Francois Hollande visited CAR on his return trip to France from the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa on Monday after two French soldiers were killed in fighting and shortly after France sent a 1,600-strong force into its former colony to neutralize the chaos and end the deadly fighting.
In the Fouh neighborhood on Tuesday, a Reuters correspondent saw civilians armed with wooden clubs and machetes attack a mosque and houses, and at least six people were lynched overnight mainly during violence targeting Muslims, according to residents. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the current French troop levels were sufficient to stabilize the country. CAR is roughly the size of France. The U.S. said it will fly African forces into the country: two U.S. military C-17 aircraft will fly 850 troops from Burundi, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, said. It was unclear what U.S. support might follow, but Firman said consultations were ongoing. The forces will help bolster the contingent from the African Union, due to be increased to 6,000 from about 3,500.
UN Refugee Agency reported that by Monday night, an estimated 108,000 people in Bangui have left their homes and staying in 30 locations across the capital, mainly in churches, mosques, public buildings and the airport. In addition, an unknown number of people have also moved to Kilometre 5, a mostly Muslim neighborhood in the northwest of Bangui, to stay with relatives or friends. In the capital Bangui, religious leaders met to distribute food to the more than 10,000 displaced people huddled at a gathering at a community center for protection. They urged an end to the violence.
David Rhode, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Reuters columnist writes: Wealthy nations are funding a poorly-equipped regional peacekeeping force instead of authorizing more costly United Nations troops, and it is unclear whether the approach will work.
Top Photo: A Christian youth inside a burned-out car in Bangui on December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
Photo: a child with members of the Muslim community attending midday prayers at Strasbourg Grand Mosque in France on the first day of Ramadan, July 9, 2013.
Top pictures from the past 24 hours.
The Grand Mosque of Paris has fixed the first day of Ramadan as Wednesday, splitting with the French Council of Muslim Religion (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman or CFCM), which determined it would begin on Tuesday.
Credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
The group of Islamist rebels occupying this dusty northern Malian town at the gateway to Timbuktu had been slaughtering a cow to eat at a small hotel.
The next instant, they were caught in an explosive blizzard of flying concrete and shrapnel.
"They ate no meat. Many were killed, maybe 40," said Hamidou Dicko, a neighbor who had peered over his mud-brick wall at the hotel - used by the rebels as a base - after the French warplanes attacked late on January 12.
The French air strike against the Hotel N’douli, which once served tourists visiting the Dogon hills or the fabled desert trading town of Timbuktu some 200 km (125 miles) to the north, left scattered limbs and shattered bodies in the courtyard.
The attack was just one of hundreds of French strikes that have characterized the 18-day offensive; sudden, devastating fire-power rained down from the skies that left surviving rebels little option but to flee into the desert.
"The few survivors gathered the dead, put them in trucks and fled," said Dicko.
French troops launched their first ground assault against Islamist rebels in Mali on Wednesday in a broadening of their operation against battle-hardened al Qaeda-linked fighters who have resisted six days of air strikes.
France has called for international support against Islamist insurgents it says pose a threat to Africa and the West, acknowledging it faces a long fight against the well-equipped militant fighters who seized Mali’s vast desert north last year.
After Islamist pledges to exact revenge for France’s intervention, militants claimed responsibility for a raid on a gas field in Algeria.
Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life on Monday after the International Cycling Union (UCI) ratified the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) sanctions against the American.
The long-awaited decision has left cycling facing its “greatest crisis” according to UCI president Pat McQuaid and has destroyed Armstrong’s last hope of clearing his name.
"Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling," McQuaid told a news conference as he outlined how cycling, long battered by doping problems for decades, would have to start all over again.
"The UCI wishes to begin that journey on that path forward today by confirming that it will not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and that it will recognize the sanction that USADA has imposed.
A massive police presence restored calm overnight on Wednesday to the French city of Amiens, where arson and gun attacks on police have added law and order to the deep economic problems President Francois Hollande must confront.
The Socialist leader pledged to do all in his power to stamp out unrest two straight days of disturbances in which after 17 police were injured, some by shotgun pellets.
An extra 100 officers were sent to the Fafet district in northern Amiens late on Tuesday, bringing to 250 the number of police patrolling there versus the usual 30, officials said.
"The night in the northern district of Amiens was very, very calm. There were incidents in other parts of Amiens and seven cars were burned but this is sadly something that is a regular occurrence in the city," a police spokesman said.
Residents have split over the violence, some blaming heavy-handed policing for rioting in which a brand new gym and a nursery school were torched, and drivers were dragged from their cars before the vehicles were set alight.