BANGUI, Mar 26 – Central African strongman Michel Djotodia has dissolved the country’s institutions and declared transitional rule a day after a bloody coup that has drawn international condemnation.
The former diplomat turned rebel leader, whose Seleka coalition took over the capital Bangui in a rapid-fire weekend assault, announced late on Monday he would rule by decree until elections are organised in three years.
Earlier Monday, the African Union suspended the coup-prone landlocked nation from its membership and the European Union condemned the coup as “unacceptable”.
The 15-member UN Security Council emerged from an emergency meeting on the crisis called by former colonial power France to condemn the coup. But while it threatened “further measures”, it made no explicit threat of sanctions.
Already late on Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Seleka’s power grab and called for “the swift restoration of constitutional order”.
Djotodia announced the suspension of the constitution, as well as the dissolution of parliament and the government late on Monday in Bangui.
“During that transition period which will lead us to free, credible and transparent elections, I will legislate by decree,” he told reporters.
Earlier Monday, in an interview with Radio France Internationale, Djotodia made it clear he would not rule out running in polls he promised for 2016.
The power change in Bangui came after a lightning offensive that shattered a January 11 power-sharing deal between the old regime and Seleka.
Francois Bozize, the ousted president, who himself seized power in a 2003 coup fled the country over the weekend and on Monday he was in Cameroon. But the authorities there said he would moving on “to another host country”.
Djotodia, who is about 60, is a former civil servant and diplomat. He served as the country’s consul to Sunday. But since 2005 he has been one of the leading figures among the rebels.
In his address on Monday night, he promised to restore order, announcing a night-time curfew effective between 7:00 pm and 6:00 am.
The Seleka rebels were initially welcomed by residents waving palm leaves in celebration, but the mood quickly darkened as looters took to the streets.
During the day, shops in the city were closed Monday as rebel fighters fired their Kalashnikovs in the air as they patrolled the streets.
But aid agency Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF), said the violence had prevented critically wounded patients from getting proper treatment and called on all sides to let their staff do their job. MSF also reported that its offices had been pillaged during the unrest.
Djotodia vowed to press on with the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former rebels that has been the core grievance of his Seleka movement.
With Bangui still without electricity or radio Monday, it was difficult to assess casualties from the weekend’s fighting. But 13 South African soldiers were killed in the fighting, the nation’s heaviest post-apartheid military loss.
South African President Jacob Zuma said they had died in a nine-hour “high-tempo battle” against “bandits”, but said there were no immediate plans to withdraw troops who were deployed alongside the weak national army.
France, which sent 300 troops over the weekend to reinforce its 250 soldiers already stationed there, said its forces had shot dead two Indian nationals who were approaching the airport in speeding vehicles Monday.
Bangui is heavily reliant on foreign aid and in an apparent attempt to reassure donors, Djotodia had earlier vowed there would be no witch hunt and that he would respect the terms of the January peace agreement.
That deal, signed in Gabonese city of Libreville, had brought an end to a month-long Seleka offensive that had swept southward and was stopped only thanks to Chadian military intervention.
As well as suspending Bangui from its membership the African Union announced “sanctions, travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Seleka’s leaders” naming seven individuals including Djotodia.
Ousted president Bozize never delivered on his promises to harness the oil, gold and uranium wealth that has remained largely untapped since independence from France in 1960.
The Central African Republic, despite its mineral riches, remains woefully underdeveloped thanks in large part to chronic political instability.