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Religious tensions rise in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic -- Rising religious tensions in the Central African Republic could be a ticking time bomb after a coup that left the chronically unstable nation with a Muslim strongman, despite his promises of secular rule.

“We are sitting on a bomb. An evil sorcerer could blow up the whole house. I don't want us to underestimate the problem,” said Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

Michel Djotodia, the self-proclaimed president, became the first Muslim leader of the country after seizing power in a bloody March 24 coup that ousted president Francois Bozize, creating days of chaos and looting.

“The Central African Republic is a secular state,” Djotodia said on Friday. “It is true that I am Muslim, but I must serve my country, all Central Africans.”

However he said that “some people with bad intentions want to lead the country into inter-religious conflict.”

Since Djotodia and his Seleka rebel coalition began an offensive in December, Bozize's regime often accused them of “preaching Wahhabism” — an ultra-conservative Islam often followed by fundamentalists — or of being “Muslim terrorists.”

During the crisis Bozize's supporters set up so-called self-defense committees which erected roadblocks around the capital Bangui and often lashed out at Muslims whom they associated with the rebels.

At the same time the rebels leaned on the Muslim community which carried out fundraising for them. Looters also ransacked Christian property after the coup, sparing Muslims and heightening tensions.

One resident of Bangui said that images of Muslims chanting “Allah Akbar” (God is great) when Djotodia arrived at the Bangui mosque for Friday prayers had “shocked” some Christians.

“We are no longer at home. They pillage our goods which are then sold by the Muslims who export them to the north (Chad and Sudan),” he said on condition of anonymity.

A woman from the Benz-Vi suburb added, referring to the Muslims: “They say, 'It's our turn now. We will make you pay.'”

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New Central African Republic leader Michel Djotodia arrives on Republic Plaza in Bangui on Saturday, March 30. The Central African Republic's new strongman Djotodia vowed Saturday not to contest 2016 polls and hand over power at the end of the three-year transition he declared after his coup a week ago. (AFP)

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