C. African Republic leader OKs faster elections

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By KRISTA LARSON, Associated Press

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Central African Republic's self-declared president will hold elections within 18 months despite initially saying that he would rule until 2016, a spokesman said Thursday.

Michel Djotodia's overthrow of the government nearly two weeks ago forced Francois Bozize, the country's president of a decade, into exile and prompted fierce criticism from the United States, African Union and others.

A regional summit on Wednesday in neighboring Chad urged Djotodia to organize democratic elections within 18 months, and to establish a council that would lead the turbulent country during a transitional period until elections can be held.

"Djotodia has accepted the recommendations," government spokesman Crepin Mboli-Goumba said Thursday, following meetings between Djotodia and the foreign ministers from other countries in the region.

Djotodia had dispatched his prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye to attend this week's summit in Chad. The African Union has suspended Central African Republic's membership following the seizure of power and Djotodia faces AU travel restrictions.

He has now agreed to the establishment of an interim leadership council, Mboli-Goumba said, though Djotodia himself could still seek the presidency under that arrangement. The process of setting up the transitional body is now underway, Mboli-Goumba said.

Djotodia's rebel fighters seized control of the capital of Bangui on March 24, overthrowing Bozize, who had himself taken power after a rebellion a decade ago.

Djotodia first rose to prominence as a rebel leader in 2006 and was an integral part of the formation of Seleka, an alliance of several groups that joined together last December in an effort to oust Bozize.

The rebels first threatened to attack the capital back in January but later signed a peace agreement that created a government of national unity. Under that deal, Bozize was to finish his term in 2016 and Djotodia was to serve as defense minister. Tiangaye, a longtime opposition figure, became prime minister.

However, the deal swiftly unraveled amid allegations of broken promises by Bozize, and thousands of armed fighters invaded Bangui in an assault that also left 13 South African soldiers dead.

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