Violent protests erupt at French embassy in Bangui
French forces deployed around France's embassy in the Central African Republic on Wednesday after protesters angered by a rebel advance in the north of the country hurled stones at the building and tore down the French flag.
Violent protests erupted Wednesday in front of the French embassy in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, with hundreds of angry demonstrators hurling projectiles, burning tires and vandalising the building’s entrance.
France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French troops were promptly deployed around the embassy's compound, "securing" the area and "restoring calm".
Earlier, a FRANCE 24 Observer speaking from within the embassy compound said the clashes had begun around 9am local time. "It started with shouts, slogans and angry posters, then stones were thrown at the building, smashing several windows," he said. "The situation was chaotic, CAR troops were patrolling but none intervened. Some protesters managed to scale the gates and snatch the French flag."
An embassy source told FRANCE 24 that around 50 people, including women and children, were barricaded inside the compound.
Demonstrators said they were angry at France for failing to help the army fight off rebel forces, who have occupied a large swathe of the country. Some even accused the former colonial power of siding with the insurgency.
FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor, Douglas Herbert, said the perceived failure of France to act had caused tensions. “'Why are they just sitting there not doing anything while rebels advance very steadily on the capital?' is a sentiment felt by some," he said.
“There’s a paradox here because a lot of them feel like they’ve been abandoned by France…and some feel that France is actively backing the rebellion itself.”
The rebels, known as the Seleka alliance, have in recent weeks taken a string of towns in the north of the land-locked country, which has been mostly unstable since independence from France in 1960.
“We are here at the French Embassy because it is France who colonised us. France has the tendency to abandon us. We don’t need France anymore; France may as well take its embassy and leave,” one protester told the AFP.
France's ambassador to the country, Serge Mucetti, urged local authorities to take decisive action over the events, which he described as "completely unacceptable".
"I ask the government of the Central African Republic to respect the appropriate agreements on this matter. Those who acted in such a manner are enemies of the Central African Republic," he said.
President François Bozize of the Central African Republic came to power in 2003 after a brief war and has repeatedly relied on foreign interventions to fend off rebellions and the spill-over from conflict in neighbouring Chad and Sudan.
With rebel forces just 75km north of the capital, he is more reliant on than other on help from abroad.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)