Seleka leader Michel Djotodia has proclaimed himself the interim leader of the Central African Republic. He says elections will be held within 18 months in the mineral rich state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
March 26, 2013, 7:19 p.m. ET
New Leader Takes Over After Coup In Africa
By ALEXIS FLYNN
The leader of Central African Republic rebels dissolved the country's constitution and declared himself ruler of the impoverished, mineral-rich nation, after his forces drove the president into exile.
Michel Djotodia, who heads the disparate Seleka rebel alliance, also nullified parliament and the government, and said he would run the country as it prepares for elections in 2016. "We have decided to guide the destiny of the people during this transitional period," he said in an interview broadcast by Radio France International.
The move brings a new era of uncertainty to a coup-prone country that has rarely enjoyed prolonged stability, in a central African region plagued by criminal, rebel and extremist groups.
Rebels occupied the capital, Bangui, in weekend fighting that sent President François Bozizé fleeing to Cameroon. The African Union responded by suspended the Central African Republic, froze the assets of rebel leaders including Mr. Djotodia, and said it would impose further punitive sanctions.
The emergence of Mr. Djotodia as Seleka's principal leader was swift, and rivalries within the rebel alliance could still surface, analysts said. The popularity of the former civil servant, who is in his 60s, grew among the alliance's rank and file after he rejected a January power-sharing deal with Mr. Bozizé. He encouraged Seleka's return to arms last week.
Mr. Djotodia has seized leadership in a capital that has been on edge for months. Bangui residents said Mr. Djotodia's declarations did little to ease tensions in the capital. Armed gunmen roamed the city's streets on Tuesday, some taking residents' food and personal belongings, a Bangui resident said.
More than 200 soldiers from South Africa, which had a military cooperation pact with Mr. Bozizé's regime, will remain in Bangui, the South African defense minister said.
South African army chief Gen. Solly Shoke said there was a "relative truce" with Seleka rebels. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels during their weekend advance on the capital.
Over the weekend, France sent 300 troops to reinforce the 250 already in the country, according to the French defense ministry. Soldiers from Chad, Gabon, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon are also in the country as part of a regional peacekeeping force.
—Nicholas Bariyo in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this article.
Write to Alexis Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared March 26, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: New Leader Takes Over After Coup In Africa.