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 CNS Story:

POPE-AFRICA Mar-27-2013 (410 words) With photo. xxxi

Pope urges end to violence, looting in Central African Republic

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence and looting in the wake of a rebel-led coup in the Central African Republic.

He asked that "a political solution to the crisis" be found as soon as possible in order to bring "peace and harmony in that dear country, marked for too long by conflicts and divisions."

The pope made appeal at the end of his first Wednesday general audience March 27.

Rebels took control of the nation's capital, Bangui, March 24 after a power-sharing agreement collapsed. The rebels' leader, Michel Djotodia, said he would suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament and rule by decree as he planned a three-year "transition period" toward new elections.

Armed gangs and looters have been reported to be roaming the capital and pillaging the city, including hospitals.

Pope Francis said he was following the unfolding events and wanted to assure civilians his prayers were with "all those who are suffering, in particular, relatives of victims, the wounded, and those who have lost their homes and are forced to flee."

"I am making an appeal that the violence and looting end immediately" as well as a peaceful solution to the unrest be found, he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui called on the rebel leaders to make protecting the people and their property a "priority."

"We must put an end to looting" and make sure rebel leaders "take charge of their responsibilities in relation to all the collateral damage," he told Radio France International.

Archbishop Nzapalainga said that "in front of the cathedral, men and women who had come to pray outside the church (March 24) were robbed by people who also wanted to take their vehicles by force."

"It is the task of those who have now assumed the responsibility of power to react quickly and to ascertain who are the perpetrators of such acts," he said in an interview republished by the Vatican's Fides news agency.

He added he was concerned about "religious tensions" in a nation whose major religions include Christianity, Islam and indigenous beliefs.

He called on rebels to "quickly put an end to these actions that could provoke in people's minds anti-religious sentiments or that might suggest that this crisis" is targeting Christians.

"It is necessary that priests, pastors and imams are protected. I speak for everyone. Men of God should be protected. This crisis is political, we cannot let it take a religious drift," he added.

END


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