Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Central African Republic: Leaders to Elect Interim President Monday

Bangui — Political leaders in strife-torn Central African Republic have agreed on guidelines for replacing interim president Michel Djotodia, who was forced to resign last week.

The transitional national council says people have until mid-day Saturday to submit names of possible candidates, who will then be evaluated on Sunday.

The group says it plans to elect the new interim leader on Monday.

The transition council announced new candidacy guidelines on Thursday, following talks in the capital, Bangui. According to the announcement, political, military and militia leaders are banned from consideration, which rules out many individuals involved in CAR politics.

Controversially, former ministers of the transitional government, which took power in the middle of last year, along with members of the transitional parliament formed at the same time, are also excluded.

The nation's senior Muslim cleric, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, is one of many people who told VOA they approve of this condition.

"People who managed the transition in the government of the outgoing president Michel Djotodia for nearly a year, and who brought the country to its knees, [should not] be candidates to succeed him," he said.

The transitional national council is also requiring that all candidates be citizens of CAR, are at least 35 years old, and hold no criminal record or history of mismanaging public office.

The group did say that political leaders presently banned from consideration for the interim presidency may seek candidacy in CAR's 2015 presidential election.

International observers

International observers view the restrictive criteria as crucial to ensuring broad support for the interim leader while safeguarding the country against more chaos or even genocide.

Senior U.N. official John Ging, operations director for the organization's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned Thursday that seeds of genocide are present in the country.

Waiting at parliament Thursday, people such as Maitre Bernard Kutu, a lawyer, carried dossiers on would-be candidates.

"I know Central Africans, and they are very keen on running for the presidency and there will be a flood of candidates," said Zutu. "Fortunately the criteria will rule out some power-hungry people who are completely worthless as national leaders."

Although no candidates have been verified, rumors of potential nominees are have been circulating, and VOA has learned of four people who have reportedly expressed an intention to seek the interim presidency, including Xavier Sylvestre Yangongo, a former general and minister in several governments; Charles Armel Doubanem, a former ambassador to the United Nations; Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba Panza; and General James Gaston Gamboa.

Observers say the parliament was still debating Thursday whether to add more conditions that could rule out potential candidates - for example, a ban on active-duty military officers.

Much of CAR's recent violence has involved targeted attacks on Muslim or Christian civilians, a new occurrence for a country that has a history of political unrest but not violent religious persecution.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said Thursday the U.S. government is working to help the African Union peacekeeping force in the CAR reach its full strength as quickly as possible. The U.S. has airlifted Burundian troops to the CAR and will soon also be helping Rwandan troops to deploy there.

CAR descended into chaos after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize last March, replacing with Djotodia, the Christian majority country's first Muslim leader.

Djotodia resigned last week under intense pressure from regional leaders after failing to stop violence that has killed more than 1,000 people over the past month and displaced more than one million over the past year.

Much of the recent violence has involved the ex-Seleka rebels and Christian militias known as anti-balaka.

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