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Central African leader tightens grip

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Facing an insurgency by a new rebel coalition, the president of Central African Republic consolidated military power under his control Thursday after dismissing his son as acting defense minister along with his army chief of staff.

President Francois Bozize said in a decree read on state radio late Wednesday that he was taking over the position held by his son, Jean Francis Bozize, as neighboring countries sent troops to help.

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Hundreds of soldiers from Chad, Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Cameroon have been arriving this week in this poor, landlocked country where rebels have seized 10 towns in a month’s time.

Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, a rebel spokesman, reiterated Thursday that they were holding their position at the transportation hub of Sibut pending negotiations in Gabon. They have apparently made no further advance toward the capital since taking the town on Dec. 29.

‘‘Our position today is that we respect the decision of the Economic Community of Central African States,’’ he said by satellite phone. ‘‘That’s why we are staying in Sibut and are not advancing.’’

Residents in the capital of Bangui said Bozize’s decision to fire his son was not surprising given the recent military losses. Some said Bozize may be making his moves too late.

‘‘It’s coming too late because the security of our country is already in the hands of rebels,’’ said Jean Nestor Kongbu as he watched fishermen cast their nets in the Obangui River that separates Central African Republic from Congo. “They say they won’t advance, but the government could provoke the rebels or the rebels could provoke the government. They need to negotiate for the Central African people.’’

The sudden military reorganization also suggests that Bozize’s regime may be weakening, said Thierry Vircoulon, of the International Crisis Group.

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