The leader of the Central African Republic (CAR), Francois Bozize, announced on Saturday he would contest presidential elections due to be held in January 2005 as an independent candidate.
"In my capacity as a soldier, I'm serving my people," he told thousands of his supporters who had gathered at the Boganda stadium in the capital, Bangui. "When I'm called I have no choice but to obey."
The crowd, estimated at 10,000 people, had turned up at the stadium in response to a call by a pro-Bozize lobby group, known as 'Convergence Kwa na Kwa'.
Bozize, a former army chief of staff, took power on 15 March 2003 when he ousted President Ange-Felix Patasse after leading a six-month rebellion. About a month later, he said would not seek election as president. "I came to save my people, my mission ends here," he said then.
On Saturday, however, Bozize said: "After thinking thoroughly, and being deeply convinced and keeping in mind the nation's interest, I grasped the deep sense of my people's calls. As a citizen, I'll take my responsibility.
"I'll contest the election to achieve the task of rebuilding the country, which is dear to me and according to your wish," he added.
Bozize had indicated his interest in running for president in November when he announced that he would make his position known after a constitutional referendum, which was held on 5 December.
Bozize, 58, was born in Gabon. After attending a military officers' training college in the CAR's northeastern province of Bouar, he became captain in 1975.
CAR's self-proclaimed emperor Jean-Bedek Bokassa appointed Bozize brigadier-general in 1978, when he was just 32 years old. Former President David Dacko ousted Bokassa in 1979 and appointed Bozize the defence minister.
Bozize was undergoing military training in France when André Kolingba ousted Dacko. He returned home and was appointed communications minister, but Kolingba later accused him of plotting a coup. He was arrested in July 1989 in Cotonou in the Republic of Benin.
Imprisoned and tortured, he was acquitted in December 1991 by a court in Bangui. In the same year, he contested and lost presidential elections won by Patasse who, however, appointed him army chief of staff in 1996.
On 26 November 2001, Bozize was sacked in connection with a failed coup attempt on 28 May 2001 by Kolingba. Bozize resisted an attempt to arrest attempt him and fled to southern Chad, where he was followed by soldiers loyal to him.
On 25 October 2002, he claimed responsibility for a coup attempt foiled by Congolese militiamen loyal to former rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba. In March 2003, Bozize's troops launched another attack and he triumphantly entered Bangui on 15 March 2003.
Others who have declared their interest in contesting the CAR presidency in January include former President Kolingba and former prime ministers Jean-Paul Ngoupande and Jean-Jacques Demafouth, who is in exile in France.
Patasse and Demafouth will be tried in absentia on 14 and 22 December, respectively, for corruption.
On 7 December, Bozize signed a decree setting the dates for the 30 January presidential and parliamentary elections.
Quoting the decree, state-owned Radio Centrafrique reported that nationwide campaigns for the elections would be held from 17 to 22 January.
"We'll endeavour to respect the calendar, such is also the wish of the international community," Jean-Wilibiro Sacko, the chairman of the Mixed Independent Electoral Commission, known as CEMI, told IRIN on Wednesday.
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