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Central African Republic pins hopes for peace on interim president

By CNN Staff
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 0120 GMT (0920 HKT)
The mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, was on Monday elected interim president of the Central African Republic. She will face the task of ending the country's turmoil and months of sectarian violence as she heads a transitional government.
The mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, was on Monday elected interim president of the Central African Republic. She will face the task of ending the country's turmoil and months of sectarian violence as she heads a transitional government.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Central African Republic elects an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza
  • The mayor of Bangui is expected to help end the country's sectarian violence
  • The EU will send troops to support French and African soldiers already in the CAR
  • The Red Cross says much of the population, fearing reprisal, is hiding in the bush

(CNN) -- Central African Republic's parliament elected the mayor of Bangui, the capital, as interim president Monday, United Nations peacekeepers there said.

Catherine Samba-Panza, elected in a second-round runoff, will face the task of ending the country's turmoil and months of sectarian violence as she heads a transitional government.

"This election must mark a new beginning as the country moves towards the full restoration of democratic legitimacy, including through free, transparent, and democratic consultations," the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office there said in a statement congratulating Samba-Panza on her victory.

She replaces Michel Djotodia, the leader of the Seleka rebels who seized power in March.

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U.N.: Half of all C.A.R. citizens need aid

Djotodia stepped down 10 days ago under pressure after failing to halt the escalating violence in the country.

Meanwhile in Brussels, European Union foreign ministers agreed to send EU troops to the country, a spokesman for the bloc's top diplomat said.

There are currently about 4,000 African troops and 1,600 French troops in the CAR to help end the violence.

In a statement U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon welcomed the EU's troop commitment and urged support for the African-led Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA). He asked the wider international community to provide financial support.

"The Secretary-General looks forward to generous contributions at the MISCA donor conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 1 February." the statement said.

The Central African Republic, a former French colony, plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of rebels dubbed Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize, in the latest in a series of coups since the country gained independence.

Rebels infiltrated the capital in March, sending Bozize fleeing to Cameroon. Djotodia, one of the Seleka leaders, became interim President.

Since then, political turmoil and violence have spiraled. Seleka is a predominantly Muslim coalition, and to counter the attacks on Christian communities, vigilante Christian groups have fought back. The United Nations has said it fears a genocide is brewing, and aid agencies warn of a humanitarian crisis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said fresh inter-communal violence had flared in the west and northwest of the landlocked country.

"Red Cross staff and volunteers have buried some 50 bodies discovered in the area around Bossembele, Boyali and Boali, in the north-west of the country," the ICRC said in a statement on Sunday.

"Much of the population, in danger of reprisals and with no one to protect them, have fled their homes and are hiding in the bush," it added.

The U.N. estimates that the worsening humanitarian crisis affects more than half of the country's population.

"The Central African Republic, with the active support of the international community, has an opportunity for a new beginning. This opportunity must be seized," the U.N. said.

CNN's Antonia Mortensen and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

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