Thousands of Christian civilians in the Central African Republic fled Friday to Bangui’s airport, which was guarded by French forces as the mostly Muslim armed fighters who have ruled since March hunted door to door for their enemies in the chaotic capital. The death toll from the intercommunal violence stood at about 280 people.
Bodies lay decomposing along Bangui’s roads, as it was too dangerous to collect the corpses. Thursday’s clashes marked the worst unrest in Bangui in nine months and raised fears that waves of retaliatory attacks could soon follow.
“They are slaughtering us like chickens,” said Appolinaire Donoboy, a Christian whose family remained in hiding.
France had pledged to increase its presence in its former colony well before Christian militias attacked the capital at dawn Thursday. The arrival of additional French troops and equipment represented the greatest hope for many Central Africans as the capital teetered on the brink of total anarchy.
About 1,000 French forces were expected to be on the ground by Friday evening, a French defense official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The conflict in one of Africa’s poorest countries has gathered little sustained international attention since the government was overthrown in March, and the dramatic developments were overshadowed Friday by global mourning for South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
“Thanks to France and the United Nations, who want to save the Central Africans, soon the Seleka attacks on civilians will stop. We have had enough of Seleka killing, raping and stealing,” said Abel Nguerefara, who lives on the outskirts of Bangui.
Streets in the city were empty Friday except for military vehicles and the trucks favored by the rebels who now claim control of the government. Nine unclaimed bodies lay sprawled in front of the parliament building alone. Local Red Cross workers didn’t dare retrieve them, or other bodies that were left to decay outside.
Nobody is protecting Christianity in the Middle East, it is a political game. Middle East is bleeding Christians. If you look at Iraq, more than 90 percent of Christianity in Iraq vanished, the Copts in Egypt are under enormous prosecution and pressure. In Syria now the Christians are leaving this place, they are displaced, killed, kidnapped, and tortured.
In Lebanon there are also Christians. Christians are living everywhere in the Middle East. We are witnessing and the world is witnessing the Christians’ presence is under enormous threat.
Billy Graham and Nelson Mandela never met but the two have been connected in many ways over the years. Both were born in 1918. Both have appeared countless times together on the USA Today/Gallup’s list of “Most Admired.”
And the two corresponded with each other through letters during Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence.
But it’s the shared passion to end apartheid that universally united these two.
Mr. Graham held Crusades in both Durban and Johannesburg in 1973, some 20 years after receiving initial invites to preach in South Africa. He wouldn’t accept an invitation unless the Crusade meetings were racially integrated. Two decades before that, he personally removed segregated ropes at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Crusade.
“My wife and I have prayed for the country of South Africa since 1951, when I was first asked to hold meetings there,” Mr. Graham said in a 1994 statement on the election of Mandela as President of South Africa. “We refused to accept that invitation until 1973, when we were able to hold fully-integrated crusades in the cities of Johannesburg and in Durban.”
Overflow crowds of more than 100,000 people came out to see Mr. Graham preach in Durban and Johannesburg in the country’s first integrated public meetings.
“Christianity is not a white man’s religion,” Mr. Graham preached during the rallies, “and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people.”