The president and prime minister of the Central African Republic resign after failing to stop sectarian violence in the troubled country.
Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Bangui after interim leaders Michel Djotodia and Nicolas Tiangaye stepped down following a summit on the country’s future in neighbouring Chad.
Residents dancing and sang in celebration, while cheers erupted at a camp for 100,000 displaced Christian civilians at the French-controlled airport.
Sporadic gunfire rang out in Bangui after curfew on Friday as French forces fired warning shots to prevent clashes between rival fighters in the Miskine neighbourhood of Bangui.
Mr Djotodia seized power in March 2013 coup when thousands of his mostly Muslim Seleka fighters stormed Bangui. He was later installed as president, while Mr Tiangaye, a longtime opposition leader, became prime minister.
But they faced growing pressure to resign as fighting between Muslim and Christian militia groups spiralled out of control. Mr Djotodia failed to control his Seleka fighters and reports of atrocities sparked a violent backlash.
In early December, a Christian militia, known as the anti-balaka and backed by loyalists of ousted President Francois Bozize, attacked the capital. More than 1,000 people died and nearly 1 million fled their homes in fear.
Djotodia’s resignation should help placate the Christian militia, but it also creates a power vacuum in a country with a long history of coups and dictatorship.
The resignations were announced after the Central African Republic’s transitional assembly (CNT) was summoned to the Chad summit late on Thursday to decide on the country’s future.
The CNT elected Djotodia to his position as interim president in April to take Central African Republic to elections, due at the end of this year.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said: “We take note of the resignation. It is up to the CNT to decide what happens now. France does not interfere in any case with this process.”
A French diplomatic source said the leaders of regional powers Chad, Gabon and Republic of Congo would each have their favourites to take over but there were “no outstanding candidates” and it was up to local leaders to decide.
France has sent 1,600 troops to help stabilise the country and an African peacekeeping force has provided thousands of additional soldiers.
European Union governments broadly backed proposals on Friday for the EU to quickly send troops to help.
The EU ambassadors, meeting in Brussels, asked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to present a more detailed paper next week, with a view to EU foreign ministers taking a decision on the force on 20 January.
Britain and Germany have said they would not send ground troops while Belgium has said it would consider sending troops as part of an EU operation.