Rebels in the Central African Republic called on government troops to lay down their arms on Wednesday, but said they had no plans to move on the capital where protests against former colonial power France turned violent.
With the government now largely isolated to the capital Bangui, Chadian troops sent last week to help the increasingly fragile regime now stand as the only rampart to rebel forces now sitting about 300 kilometres (200 miles) beyond the city limits.
"We call on all the sons and daughters of Central Africa, on all members of defence and security forces still loyal to (President) Francois Bozize's regime... to lay down their arms immediately," said a statement from the Seleka rebel coalition after capturing their fourth major town in a month.
"For reasons of security and protection of civilians, we no longer consider it necessary to wage the battle for Bangui and to send our troops there as General Francois Bozize... has already lost control of the country," it said.
The statement came as hundreds of demonstrators close to the embattled president angrily turned on the French embassy in Bangui, protesting at a lack of help to push back the rebels sweeping across the resource-rich but poverty-stricken nation.
The rally had begun at the US embassy where demonstrators chanted calls for peace but at the French embassy the mood turned violent and protestors broke windows and pulled down France's flag.
"This situation is completely unacceptable," said French ambassador Serge Mucetti.
"I ask the government of the Central African Republic to respect the appropriate agreements on this matter. Those who acted in such a manner are enemies of the Central African Republic," he said.
A student demonstrator at the scene accused France of "not respecting defence agreements" linking the two countries.
The offices of Air France were also attacked, an AFP reporter witnessed and the company said in reaction to the violence that its weekly flight to Bangui was turned around mid-flight to return back to Paris.
Since the end of colonisation in the 1960s, French troops in western Africa have often come to the help of former colonies whose regimes were on the verge of being toppled.
Two hundred French military instructors are currently stationed in Bangui.
The central African bloc ECCAS said on Wednesday that it was sending envoys to persuade the rebels and government to agree a ceasefire.
"The ECCAS is in the middle of sending a team on the ground to try and get a ceasefire from one side and the other," Nassour Ouaidou, the head of the Economic Community of Central African States, told AFP in Libreville.
Neighbouring Chad sent troops into the country after a request from Bozize to try to stem the rebel advance. Chadian troops have previously helped Bozize during rebellions in the north in 2010.
The Central African army is ill-equipped, under-paid and poorly organised and has offered scant resistance to the rebels.
The Seleka coalition is made up of rebels that says the government has not honoured peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011, which offered financial support and other help for insurgents who laid down their arms.
The Central African Republic is a mineral-rich, landlocked country with less than five million residents. It ranks 179 out of 187 countries on the UN's latest development index and has seen frequent coups and mutinies.
© 2012 AFP
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