Members of a national transitional council chose the female mayor of the Central African Republic's capital to lead the country out of chaos yesterday, as a top UN official urged the international community to keep the nation from "crossing the tipping point into an all-out sectarian conflict".
At two meetings in Brussels, international donors pledged a total of US$496 million in humanitarian assistance and European Union foreign ministers took a first step towards potentially deploying hundreds more troops to reinforce French and African peacekeepers to secure the country, where nearly a million people are displaced.
Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was chosen as interim president after two rounds of voting, becoming the first female leader in the country's history. She beat out Desire Zanga-Kolingba, the son of a former president, in the run-off.
Samba-Panza, a corporate lawyer in the insurance industry who took over the mayor's office last June, will now be tasked with organising national elections before the end of the year.
She also faces the enormous task of stemming anarchy and bloodshed that has left an untold number dead since a March 2013 coup. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka arose in opposition to the mostly Muslim Seleka rebellion that seized power then.
"I call on my children, especially the anti-Balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka - they should not have fear," she said.
Some 1,600 French peacekeepers along with 4,400 African troops are working to restore order though nearly all of them are in Bangui while violence has ravaged the distant northwest.
Yesterday, the EU took initial steps towards sending as many as 600 troops to Bangui to aid the effort. It was unclear where the troops would come from and when they would deploy.
In addition to the EU aid offer, the United States also announced that it would be providing nearly US$30 million in more humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to US$45 million since major violence erupted last month.