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Central African rebels overthrow president

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 9:33 p.m.

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Rebels overthrew Central African Republic's president of a decade on Sunday, seizing the presidential palace and declaring that the desperately poor country has “opened a new page in its history.”

The country's president fled the capital, while extra French troops moved to secure the airport, officials said.

The rebels' invasion of the capital occurred two months after they had signed a peace agreement that would have let President Francois Bozize serve until 2016. That deal unraveled in recent days, prompting the insurgents' advance into Bangui and Bozize's departure to an unpublicized location.

Witnesses and an adviser to Bozize said rebel trucks were traveling throughout the town hours after the palace was seized. Former colonial power France confirmed the developments, issuing a statement that said French President Francois Hollande “has taken note of the departure of President Francois Bozize.”

“Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history,” said a communique signed by Justin Kombo Moustapha, secretary-general of the alliance of rebel groups known as Seleka.

“The political committee of the Seleka coalition, made up of Central Africans of all kinds, calls on the population to remain calm and to prepare to welcome the revolutionary forces of Seleka,” it said.

Central African Republic, a nation of 4.5 million, has long been wracked by rebellions and power grabs. Bozize took power in 2003 after a rebellion, and his tenure has been marked by conflict with myriad armed groups.

The rebels reached the outskirts of Bangui late Saturday.

Heavy gunfire echoed through the city on Sunday as the fighters made their way to the presidential palace, though the president was not there.

“Bozize left the city this morning,” said Maximin Olouamat, a Bozize adviser.

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