By Paul-Marin Ngoupana
BANGUI, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Central African Republic President Francois Bozize named a university rector as prime minister on Tuesday as he intensified efforts to end a general strike launched by unions.
Faustin Archange Touadera, a professor and rector of Bangui University, was appointed by a presidential decree to replace Elie Dote who resigned along with his government on Friday after more than two years in office.
Touadera’s appointment came as a surprise to many as he was not known to have any past political experience.
Union leaders had already said the change of the prime minister would not halt their general strike which they launched on Jan. 2 to demand payment of seven months of arrears in salaries to civil servants and teachers.
The government says it does not have the funds to pay the civil servants. The strike has closed schools and disrupted services in the landlocked, poor former French colony, which has suffered a spate of coups and mutinies in the past decade.
Bozize met on Tuesday with representatives of almost all sectors of society, including the army, the police and religious and community leaders, to discuss the national situation. But leaders of the main unions did not attend the meeting.
The strike is taking place only weeks before Central African Republic is due to receive European Union peacekeepers who are to deploy in its northeast corner to protect civilians from violence spilling over from Sudan’s Darfur region.
Western diplomats in Bangui say that unless the stoppage is defused quickly, it could pose more serious political problems for Bozize, who seized power in 2003 and won elections two years later with support from the unions.
Students have staged some demonstrations in the streets of Bangui to protest against not being able to attend classes.
Central African Republic is already facing a humanitarian emergency in its northwest and northeast, where raids by several armed groups and counter-attacks by government soldiers have driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes since 2006.
The European peacekeepers to be deployed in the remote northeast, which was temporarily occupied by one rebel group in late 2006, are part of a larger EU force that has a United Nations mandate to protect civilians in eastern Chad.
This EU force is expected to start deploying in February.
Bozize signed peace pacts with two rebel groups last year and is promoting an all-inclusive political dialogue aimed at trying to pacify the country, which lies to the southwest of Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur. (Writing by Pascal Fletcher)