French troops set to defend democracy

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The Independent Culture
Paris (Reuter) - France yesterday ordered its troops in the Central African Republic to protect the elected government of President Ange-Felix Patasse against army mutineers,

LCI television, in a report telephoned from Bangui, said two French Mirage fighters armed with rockets had taken off from a nearby air base. Combat helicopters were also involved and at least one of them had opened fire. The official said about 100 special forces commandos were flown in from France. LCI said about 100 heavily-armed French soldiers had left the Bangui airbase.

The state radio, with the presidential palace and parliament, was among the few strategic places in Bangui still under government control.

They were defended by loyalist troops and French soldiers with tanks, local residents said. In a report from Bangui, France-Info radio said the rebels had claimed they would be in control of all of the city by the evening.

"The mission is to maintain the democratic state," Co-operation Minister Jacques Godfrain said. "That means freedom of movement and freedom of expression."

He added that Paris had received strong support from neighbouring African states.

"The heads of state of neighbouring African countries have expressed strong solidarity with one of their colleagues [President Patasse] who was democratically elected, and strong support for what France is doing."

The Minister added that French troops had been deployed to protect the state radio station in Bangui "to prevent it being taken by force" by the mutineers, whose five-day-old revolt spread after negotiations with the President broke down. A Defence Ministry official also said heavy shooting resumed around the radio station after the talks between the government and rebels had failed.

"We are intervening against this attack." he said.

A French military helicopter was also reported to have fired on army mutineers near the state radio station in Bangui and several rebels were killed.

"I saw the French helicopter firing at the mutineers near the national radio." a correspondent for BBC radio reported an Africa service programme. A politician with close contacts among rebels said nine mutineers died in the clash.

France would, he said, repatriate all foreign nationals who wished to flee the country, prompted by looting and street violence.

The second evacuation flight from Bangui was due to arrive in Paris early this morning.