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New leader raises hopes of end to CAR violence

BANGUI, Central African Republic--The new leader of the Central African Republic pledged Tuesday to form a government based on skills rather than religion as she sought to end months of Christian-Muslim bloodshed.

A day after Bangui's Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was elected transitional president by the interim parliament, residents said the capital was unusually calm, apart from isolated acts of looting by gangs of youths.

The city remained under nightly curfew and was patrolled by French and African soldiers.

Saying she wanted a government of technocrats free of corruption, Samba-Panza told a French radio station that she would appoint people regardless of their religious affiliation.

The public and politicians alike hailed the choice of the first woman to lead the CAR after ten months of spiraling violence between Muslim former rebels and Christian vigilantes, which has displaced a million people in the population of 4.6 million.

Residents welcomed the “resounding appeal” by “Madame Catherine” for both the Christian self-defense militias known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) and the Muslim fighters to lay down their arms and “show your support for my nomination.”

A representative of the anti-balaka forces, Levi Yakete, told AFP that he had “passed on the ceasefire appeal to our fighters and it is being heeded up until now.”

“We had a goal to attain which was the departure” of former president Michel Djototia, who overthrew the regime of Francois Bozize in March 2013, Yakete added.

Djotodia later proved incapable of reining in the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka coalition that brought him to power, when they triggered inter-religious conflict with their atrocities. His regional peers forced him to resign on January 10.

People in Bangui awaited action, especially the disarmament and neutralization of fighters and looters, which is one of the tasks of the 1,600 troops of France's Operation Sangaris and the 4,400 soldiers of an African Union force known as MISCA, under a United Nations mandate.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed to send 500 troops to help, while the UN World Food Programme warned that it was running out of supplies for a growing number of homeless people, including about 100,000 Bangui residents who have fled to a sprawling tent city near the airport, where foreign troops are based.

“Me, I'm not budging,” the displaced Nathalie Kossimou told AFP at the airport camp. “I have nothing, my house was looted, I'm scared, and as long as the Seleka still have weapons, I'll be staying here.”

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