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Violence in Central African Republic raises fears for Pope’s visit

Clashes in Bangui have left dozens dead, according to the UN

A Catholic bishop in the Central African Republic (CAR) has expressed fears that fresh fighting in the country’s capital could affect Pope Francis’s visit there next month.

Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of the Bossangoa, vice president of the country’s bishops’ conference, said the bishops in the country were deeply disturbed by violence in Bangui city, which the UN says has killed at least 36 people.

“The situation in Bangui is a matter of great concern. If stability is not re-established, that might affect a number of things, including the papal visit," said Bishop Nongo Aziagbia. “We’re praying for reason, peace and understanding."

Pope Francis, in his first visit to Africa as Pontiff, is expected to tour Bangui in CAR, Nairobi in Kenya and Kampala in Uganda. Kenya faces the threat of Somalia-based al-Shabaab extremists and CAR is experiencing violence between the pro-Christian anti-Balaka and the Islamist Seleka. Uganda is celebrating 50 years since the canonisation of martyrs killed for their faith about 100 years ago.

The violence ignited in Bangui on Saturday after the body of a Muslim taxi driver was found outside a mosque in the majority Muslim neighbourhood of PK-5.

The violence has since turned into a protest against the transitional government of President Catherine Panza-Samba. Demonstrators have called for the departure of the government as well as French peacekeeping troops.

In the violence, Rev Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the chairman of the Association of the Evangelicals in CAR, narrowly escaped death after his home was targeted by a mob, according to Bishop Nongo Aziagbia.

“The Muslim attackers missed him at his residence, threw his family out of the house, stole a few items and set his house ablaze," said the bishop.

The Rev Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama have been working together to discourage sectarian violence.

“The archbishop [Nzapalainga] has made a number of radio statements calling people to peace. He is the only person crossing over the barricades erected by the insurgents," said Bishop Nongo Aziagbia.

The UN expressed concerns that the country may be sliding back to the violence of late 2013 and 2014, when thousands were killed and thousands of others forced to flee their homes.

An estimated 27,000 have been displaced in the latest round of violence. Churches continue to shelter some of the displaced.

by Fredrick Nzwili


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