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New CAR President Works to 'Calm Down' Nation

The new interim president of the Central African Republic tells VOA the most important thing to do to bring peace to her country is to "calm people down."

In the first interview since her election Monday, Catherine Samba-Panza tells VOA's French to Africa that she thinks having a woman leader for the C.A.R. will help "calm down those who have hatred in their hearts."

Samba-Panza is the country's first female president and the mayor of the capital, Bangui. She was chosen Monday by a Transitional National Council to lead the country out of months of chaos and Muslim-Christian violence. The instability has driven more than 900,000 people from their homes.

Samba-Panza says the country is in a very difficult situation: "The population is extremely poor. People also need to feel safe everywhere in C.A.R."

In another development Monday, the World Food Program said it is running out of food in the country because of continued unrest. It says its trucks are positioned at the C.A.R. border with Cameroon, but it says truck drivers refuse to cross the border because of insecurity.

WFP officials say their cereal stocks are close to being exhausted and they will soon run out of legumes. They say that as a last resort, they are considering airlifting the food to the capital, Bangui.

Also Monday, European Union foreign ministers in Brussels approved a plan to send hundreds of peacekeepers to the C.A.R. The EU operation would be in support of 1,600 French troops and nearly 5,000 African soldiers already in the country.

The United States said it is providing an additional $30 million to address urgent humanitarian needs there.

The C.A.R.'s new president replaces former interim leader Michel Djotodia, who resigned under intense international pressure after he failed to stop the fighting.

The country, which has a history of unrest, descended into chaos last year after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels toppled President Francois Bozize.

Attacks and looting by the rebels sparked the rise of Christian defense groups and a cycle of killings. The U.N. humanitarian agency says 882 people have been killed in Bangui alone since early December.

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