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African Union Condemns CAR Coup

The African Union has strongly condemned Saturday's coup in the Central African Republic. France is evacuating its citizens from the country. The coup leader said he has suspended the constitution and the parliament, but is planning a transition back to democracy.

The man who led the coup in central Africa, former military chief Francois Bozize, calls it a temporary interruption of the democratic process.

In a national radio address late Sunday, he said he was dissolving the government and national assembly, and suspending the constitution. But he said is planning to meet with all of the country's political parties and, what he called, active forces of the nation to agree on a program of transition back to democracy. He said former heads of state would serve on this national transition council.

General Bozize promised to hold elections, but he did not say when. He said his government is one of peace and national reconciliation.

The general imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for 10 days in the capital, Bangui, in an effort to stem the looting that began when the government was overthrown Saturday.

The coup took place while President Ange-Felix Patasse was out of the country, attending a regional summit in Niger. He has been in a hotel in Cameroon since then, and has not spoken to the foreign media.

Mr. Patasse has survived a string of coup attempts in recent years, including one in October that was foiled with the help of troops from Libya and rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Libyan troops have left the country, replaced by a peacekeeping force from neighboring countries in central Africa.

Three peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo have been reported killed in the fighting. But most reports from Bangui say the peacekeepers did not offer much resistance to the advancing rebels as they marched into the city Saturday. Only a few other casualties have been reported.

The leaders of the African Union have strongly condemned the military coup in the Central African Republic.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, in his capacity as AU president, said the African Union opposes any unconstitutional transfer of power. He said the coup undermines the continent's efforts toward development and economic recovery.

Acting AU Chairman Amara Essy said the group's central council will meet shortly to consider the situation and decide what action to take. The AU suspended Madagascar after what it considered an unconstitutional change of government last year.

France also condemned the coup in its former colony. The French foreign ministry said it has evacuated about 80 foreigners from the Central African Republic, including 60 French citizens. They were flown on a French military airplane to the capital of nearby Gabon.

France said it is sending additional soldiers to the Bangui airport to support the central African peacekeepers.

French officials say their embassy is continuing to round up foreigners who want to leave the country.