BANGUI, Central African Republic - The president on Thursday urgently called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching this capital city, but French officials declined to offer any military assistance.
The developments suggest Central African Republic could be on the brink of another violent change in government, something not new in the history of this resource-rich, yet deeply impoverished country. The current president, Francois Bozize, himself came to power nearly a decade ago after a rebellion.
Speaking to crowds in Bangui, a city of 600,000, Bozize pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could. He pointed in particular to France, Central African Republic's former colonial ruler.
About 200 French soldiers are already in the country, providing technical support and helping to train the local army, according to the French defense ministry.
"France has the means to stop [the rebels], but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now," Bozize said.
French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that France wants to protect its interests in Central African Republic but not Bozize's government. The comments came a day after dozens of protesters, angry about a lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy and stole a French flag.
Paris is encouraging peace talks between the government and the rebels, with the French Foreign Ministry noting in a statement that negotiations are due to "begin shortly in Libreville [Gabon]." But it was not immediately clear what, if any, dates have been set.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, meanwhile, spoke via phone with Bozize, asking the president to take responsibility for the safety of French nationals and diplomatic missions.
U.S. officials said Thursday the State Department would close its embassy and ordered its diplomatic team to leave.