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Central African Republic’s ex-ruler Djotodia seeks exile in Benin a day after stepping down

The man who ruled the Central African Republic as the country disintegrated into near-anarchy sought exile Saturday in the tiny West African nation of Benin as violence overnight in the capital, Bangui, left at least four people dead, officials and residents said.

Michel Djotodia, a rebel leader who hails from his country’s north, had seized control of the Central African Republic in March with the help of thousands of armed fighters, ousting the president. On Friday, he agreed to step aside, along with his prime minister, at a regional summit in Chad amid mounting international pressure.

More than 1,000 people were killed in December as bloodshed erupted along religious fault lines, prompting nearly 1 million people to flee their homes. Djotodia’s fighters were predominantly Muslim, and their attacks on the majority Christian civilian population during their rule had led to Christian militias attacking mosques and killing Muslim civilians accused of supporting Djotodia and his rebel movement, known as Seleka.

Babacar Gaye, the U.N. special representative to the Central African Republic, urged people and leaders “to maintain calm and show maturity following the resignations of the head of state and the prime minister of the transition.”

Djotodia arrived Saturday afternoon in Benin, where his wife is from, aboard a plane lent by the president of Chad. The former leader was greeted upon arrival by Benin’s foreign-affairs minister, Nassirou Bako. “Accepting the former president here is Benin’s contribution to reestablishing peace in Central African Republic,” Bako told reporters.

Djotodia’s departure after nearly 10 months in power was initially met with celebrations in Bangui, although sporadic violence and looting occurred overnight in several predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. At least four people were killed in Bangui’s third district, where scores of homes were burned down in reprisal attacks on Muslims accused of conspiring with Djotodia and his now-defunct government.

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