* Mosques and Muslim-owned property attacked overnight
* Red Cross says three bodies collected from city's streets
* Violence eases as ex-president goes into exile in Benin
(Recasts with Djotodia arriving in exile)
By Paul-Marin Ngoupana
BANGUI, Jan 11 Central African Republic's
president flew into exile in Benin on Saturday and a new interim
team started the process of identifying leaders who might
restore order to a nation gripped by months of inter-religious
There were hopes that the change of leadership might provide
a fresh start to peace efforts but gunfire rang out, mosques
were attacked and Muslim-owned shops and houses were looted
overnight before violence eased during the day.
The United Nations called for calm and stepped up flights
out for foreigners. Governments of other African countries have
evacuated nearly 30,000 of their citizens caught up in the
President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas
Tiangaye quit on Friday under intense international pressure
after they failed to halt cycles of violence that have killed
thousands and driven a million people, a quarter of the
country's population, from their homes.
Late on Friday, thousands of people took to the streets of
Bangui, the country's crumbling riverside capital, to celebrate
the departure of Djotodia, who was swept to power by mainly
Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, last March.
Abuses by Seleka forces had led to the creation of Christian
self-defence militia and killings that evoked memories of
Rwanda's genocide 20 years ago.
Djotodia landed in Benin on Saturday afternoon after Central
African regional leaders asked the country to host him,
according to a statement by Benin's government.
The choice is unsurprising as Djotodia knows Benin. He spent
several years there during the last decade of turmoil and has
family in the West African nation.
Joy over Djotodia's departure gave way to violence late on
Friday and African and French peacekeepers reported overnight
clashes between Seleka fighters and Christian militia.
"But I can confirm that a good part of the shooting was
warning shots from us to disperse looters who were targeting
Muslim homes and shops," an officer in the African peacekeeping
mission said, asking not to be named.
The local Red Cross said it had collected three bodies from
the streets after violence overnight.
"We don't understand why we keep killing each other, looting
and sowing destruction amongst civilians, even after the
politicians people wanted out had stepped down," said Ahamat
Deliriss, vice president of the Islamic Council.
"Mosques in the Petevo, Yapele and Bimbo neighbourhoods were
destroyed. It is a shame."
The streets of Bangui were largely quiet on Saturday.
"TIME FOR PAYBACK"
Former colonial power France, which had sought to stay out
of the latest crisis in a country where it has often intervened,
dispatched hundreds of soldiers last month to bolster a
beleaguered African peacekeeping force as killings spiralled.
Yet violence has continued, killing 1,000 in December.
French and Chadian troops were among the victims and
international pressure mounted on Djotodia to step aside at an
emergency summit hosted by neighbouring Chad this week.
Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the head of Central African
Republic's (CAR) transitional assembly (CNT), is officially in
charge of the country until the body can select a new leader to
guide CAR to elections, which are due later this year.
While Djotodia went into exile, Nguendet and other Central
African politicians returned to Bangui. Addressing the nation
for the first time, Nguendet said the assembly would start work
on identifying new leadership immediately.
Security is precarious despite the presence of 1,600 French
and some 4,000 African peacekeepers on the ground. European
Union governments broadly backed proposals on Friday for the EU
to quickly send troops to help.
The International Organisation for Migration on Saturday
began airlifting stranded foreigners out of the country, where
60,000 people from neighbouring countries have asked to leave.
Some 27,000 people, mainly from Mali, Senegal, Niger and
Chad, have already been evacuated by their governments.
Tensions are running high among those who will remain.
"They (Muslims) killed us, looted and mistreated us. Now it
is time for payback," said Igor Moumini, a resident in the Sica
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun in Bangui, Madjiasra
Nako in N'Djamena, Ange Aboa in Abidjan, Samuel Elijah in
Cotonou and David Lewis in Dakar; Editing by Andrew Roche)