Pope Francis called on Wednesday for an immediate stop to violence and pillaging in the Central African Republic, three days after president Francois Bozize was forced into exile by a bloody coup.
"I am following the situation in the Central African Republic with great attention," Francis said in his first reference to a specific conflict since his inauguration to the papacy last week.
"I appeal for an immediate stop to violence and pillaging, and for a political solution to the crisis to be found as soon as possible to bring peace," he told thousands of people gathered in the sun-washed St Peter's Square for his first general audience.
The head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, who arrived at the audience in his popemobile, broke with tradition by speaking only in Italian, rather than addressing pilgrims in their native tongues.
Rebels in the Central African Republic seized the capital Bangui on Sunday after the collapse of a two-month-old peace deal with Bozize's regime and strongman Michel Djotodia said he plans to rule by decree until elections in three years.