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CAR Marchers Urge End to Rebel Violence

Protesters took to the streets of the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, Wednesday, urging an end to the conflict with rebels. For more than a week, armed opposition groups have controlled a strategically important northern city of Birao. Jordan Davis reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Thousands of protesters marched through Bangui's main thoroughfares carrying banners and signs urging an end to violence and war.

The protests were mainly organized by civil society groups, many of which had ties close to the government. Local journalist Ferdinand Samba said many government officials marched with protesters. Samba said a number of demonstrators held signs urging the government to take up a rebel offer of a negotiated settlement.

But in a speech to protesters, Central African Republic President Francois Bozize excluded the possibility of sitting down with rebels, saying the country's army would recapture Birao.

A rebel alliance known as the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity captured Birao over a week ago. They have demanded a power-sharing deal with Mr. Bozize.

Birao has been largely cut off. Government officials said battles with rebels there led to an undisclosed number of civilian and military casualties.

Earlier this week, the French-based group Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross announced they would try to send humanitarian missions to Birao.

Central African leaders have accused Sudan of backing the rebel movement in the country's northeast, something officials in Khartoum have repeatedly denied.