The US evacuated its embassy in the Central African Republic as the nation’s embattled leader appealed for French and US help after rebels seized large swathes of the mineral-rich country.
The US said on Thursday it had evacuated the embassy and temporarily halted its operations. The US Department of State said it had not broken off diplomatic ties with the beleaguered government, but warned US citizens not to travel to the chronically unstable country while unrest continues.
The UN is also pulling out its staff as rebel fighters close in on the capital, Bangui, triggering alarm among residents.
“We ask our French cousins and the United States of America, the great powers, to help us to push back the rebels ... to allow for dialogue in Libreville to resolve the current crisis,” Central African Republic President Francois Bozize told thousands of supporters at a rally in Bangui.
“There is no question of allowing them to kill Central Africans, of letting them destroy houses and pillage, and holding a knife to our throats to demand dialogue,” said Bozize, who himself seized power in a coup in 2003.
“It is a plot against the Central African Republic, a plot against its people,” he said.
However, former colonial power France vowed it would not intervene in the country, which has a checkered history of coups and brutal rule.
Organizers said 10,000 government supporters converged on central Bangui.
The protesters blew whistles and waved banners reading “Say No to war” and “No to rebellions.”
The rebel coalition known as Seleka — which means “alliance” in Sango — has seized four regional capitals, including a diamond mining hub, since its fighters took up arms on Dec. 10.
While it says it has no plans to move on the capital, a statement last week announcing it had suspended its advance was followed within a day by news of further rebel victories.
The UN mission in the country has been working to help the government overcome more than a decade of strife.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the rebel attacks, while the US expressed “deep concern.”