New Central African president set to take reins of crisis-wracked country

Candidate Catherine Samba Panza walks to the tribune to give her speech at the National Transitional Council (CNT) during a session to elect the interim president of the Central African Republic on Jan 20, 2014, in Bangui. The new president of C
Candidate Catherine Samba Panza walks to the tribune to give her speech at the National Transitional Council (CNT) during a session to elect the interim president of the Central African Republic on Jan 20, 2014, in Bangui. The new president of Central African Republic, Ms Catherine Samba Panza, will be sworn in on Thursday, Jan 23, 2014 with a mission to end atrocious sectarian violence and tackle an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AFP) - The new president of Central African Republic, Ms Catherine Samba Panza, will be sworn in on Thursday with a mission to end atrocious sectarian violence and tackle an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

She will be sworn in at a ceremony due to begin at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT), succeeding Mr Michel Djotodia, who was installed as the country's first Muslim president by his mainly Muslim Seleka rebels after a coup in March 2013.

Mr Djotodia had toppled the regime of Francois Bozize but was himself forced to step down after proving incapable of reining in the Seleka, some of whom turned rogue.

Their atrocities against Christians provoked an unprecedented inter-religious conflict claiming thousands of lives, and the UN has warned that the bloodshed could descend into genocide.

Ms Samba Panza, the first woman to take charge of the poor, landlocked nation, is expected rapidly to appoint a prime minister - probably by Friday night - in hopes of forming a government early next week capable of meeting vast challenges.

The foreign minister of former colonial power France, Mr Laurent Fabius, will be among the dignitaries present at the investiture.

On Thursday morning, a day after further clashes took at least ten lives, life in the capital had a semblance of normality, with French and African peacekeeping troops patrolling.

But all the elements that have plunged the country into chaos persist, after months of spiralling violence between armed extremists in religious communities.

About 400,000 people or half of Bangui's population are still displaced.

About a quarter of them subsist in a sprawling refugee camp near the airport and the bases of the foreign troops, too scared to go home.

Most of the interior of the CAR is under the sway of warlords, according to Bangui's Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the chief imam, Mr Oumar Kobine Layama, who pleaded for further international help Wednesday in Paris.