The French news agency, AFP said 78 bodies have been found in the streets of the Central Africa Republic capital Bangui since it fell to rebels last weekend, as jittery residents waited to hear about a new government.
“Since Saturday until today, our volunteers have found 78 bodies that were taken to the morgues…. We ask the population to come to these sanitary institutions to identify the bodies with a view to taking them away for burial,” a Red Cross official Albert Yomba Eyamo told AFP.
The United Nations meanwhile has warned tens of thousands of people in the impoverished and notoriously unstable country face severe food shortages.
Drinking water and electricity were cut off in parts of Bangui, whose seizure on Sunday by the Seleka rebel coalition, led by strongman Michel Djotodia, forced president Francois Bozize to flee and sparked a rampage by groups of armed looters.
Many claimed to be members of the Seleka, which means “alliance” and was formed by three rebel movements.
News of the death toll from the Red Cross cast a shadow over celebrations for Central African Republic’s national day Friday — named after the nation’s founder Barthelemy Boganda, who paved the way for independence from France in 1960.
Only about 300 people attended a small ceremony in memory of Boganda, one resident explaining that people were still fearful after Sunday’s coup.
“Usually, there are more people, but today people can’t get around and they are frightened of moving around,” said the resident, who asked not to be named.
Boganda “is a symbol, he did a great deal for our country,” said Peter Banguima, a butcher, who said he was concerned to see what he called “the Muslims” of the Seleka coalition in power.
People waited for news of a new government from Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, who has been reappointed to the post he held for just two months as head of a national unity government following a peace pact signed by the rebels and Bozize’s regime in Libreville in January.
Bangui city centre was quiet on Friday and a handful of taxis had the streets to themselves as looting and unrest petered out.
Business and administrative activities are due to resume on “Tuesday at the latest,” a day after Easter Monday, Seleka spokesman Christophe Gazam Betty said earlier this week.
The rebels toppled Bozize on the grounds that he had failed to honour the terms of the Libreville accord. Bozize fled to Cameroon and has asked for asylum in Benin, according to Benin’s Foreign Minister Arifari Bako.
Djotodia, a former diplomat and civil servant who went into rebellion in 2005, said on Monday that he intended to lead the country for three years, until elections are organised.
Many political figures have said they will work with Djotodia to restore order.
Gathered at a Bangui hotel which the rebels use as a base, Cyriaque Gonda, who led the presidential majority under Bozize, said he and his colleagues “have decided to make ourselves available”, because Djotodia has said he is ready to work within the spirit of the Libreville accords and “he has open arms”.
The Central African Republic has been highly unstable since its independence in 1960.
Coups d’etat, mutinies, persistent pay strikes and rebellions have prevented the exploitation of potential national wealth in the shape of uranium, gold and diamonds. Bozize himself initially took power in a coup in 2003