The French government has confirmed that the president of the Central African Republic, François Bozizé, has left the capital Bangui after it fell to rebel hands.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement that Bozizé has left, but did not say where.
However, Fabius said: "I call on all parties to show the greatest restraint," adding that French military forces in the country "have been reinforced" to protect the security of an estimated 1,200 French expatriates, who have been urged to stay home.
Another 800 foreigners from other countries are also believed to be in the country.
A diplomatic source told the news agency AFP that 350 French troops from neighbouring Gabon have arrived to reinforce 250 French soldiers stationed in the Central African Republic.
Earlier today, Séléka coalition rebels announced they have taken over the presidential palace in Bangui.
Residents reported heavy fighting around the capital since Saturday.
In January, the Séléka rebels and Bozizé's government signed a power-sharing deal in Libreville, Gabon.
However, the deal broke down after just two months.
Roland Marchal, a researcher at Science Po in Paris, told RFI there was mistrust between the Séléka rebels and François Bozizé.
"What happened was, goodwill was basically nowhere. The side of Bozizé didn't really release the political prisoners, who often were close relatives of Séléka commanders ... François Bozizé just did not respond to any of the questions relating to the release of the prisoners."
Marchal says whatever the Séléka rebels do, they must ensure that hospitals and humanitarian organisations will be able to continue their work in Bangui.
"They should allow humanitarian NGOs to deliver basic services, emergency services to the population, and that will certainly prove [to] the population in Bangui that Séléka is not only made up of people from the north trying to loot the capital city."