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Celebrations break out in Central African Republic after president steps down

January 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of the violence-stricken Central African Republic resigned today, after mounting pressure from regional leaders for failing to stop the country’s slide toward anarchy and sectarian bloodshed.

The rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, seized control of the country nine months ago, bringing a Muslim rebel movement to power, one blamed for looting, kidnapping and killing. In December, a Christian militia attacked the capital, and the fighting has only escalated, leaving more than 1,000 dead and nearly a million people forced to flee their homes in fear.

We have this on-the-ground report on reaction to the resignation from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: From the first light, they knew today was going to be their day, at first, small groups on the streets trying to block them, but there was no menace here, at least at this stage.

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French soldiers politely suggesting they allow one carriageway clear for the traffic, then more and more, and bursting into the national anthem. They sing of dignity and brotherhood, the Christian un-silent majority here voicing their hatred of the president they blame for siding with the Muslim minority.

“Djotodia resign, Djotodia resign,” they chant.

MAN (through interpreter): Before midday, he must go. Before midday, he must resign. All Central African people demand this. If he doesn’t, we will go to the airport and occupy it for the rest of our lives.

ALEX THOMSON: So, we ask, if the president resigns, will it be peace?

(SHOUTING)

ALEX THOMSON: That will be a yes, then.

For the moment, the French soldiers here can do little more than advise people not to go down this road. This is one of the key interfaces in this city. If the demonstrators proceed down this road, they will go into a predominantly Muslim area. So far, we have a balance of euphoria. They’re singing their song again, as you hear — but also deep and profound anger.

You wave branches here at someone’s funeral to recognize they have passed on. In this case, President Djotodia’s passed on.

MAN (through interpreter): We don’t want the resignation to come from us. It was France who colonized us. They are the ones who brought the president to power. We don’t want Djotodia in power.

ALEX THOMSON: More ominously today, we’re seeing the juju symbols of the Christian militia on the streets, including here the scarf and horns. Anything will do when it comes to protecting yourself in battle.

They shout, “Watch out, Muslim fighters. The Christian militias are back.”

And they are, hundreds of Christian militia gathering with spears, daggers and machetes at the airport this morning. They said they’d block the runway if the president didn’t go. Now President Djotodia has gone, and African peacekeepers spread themselves as widely as they can in this situation. Nobody knows how the Muslim and Christian militias will respond.

The French keep watch at ground level, heavy machine guns in place now, rather larger guns out by the airport, a place the departed president may never see again.