BANGUI, Central African Republic (Agence France-Presse) -- The United Nations is evacuating staff from the Central African Republic, and the United States has warned its citizens to leave, as rebel fighters close in on the tense capital, Bangui.
France deployed troops to protect its embassy after it was attacked by demonstrators calling for the former colonial power to help push back the rebels, who have already seized several towns in the north of the resource-rich but poverty-stricken nation.
The United Nations on Wednesday ordered more than 200 nonessential staff members and families of other workers to leave.
The rebels' "contradictory messages and their continued military offensive seem to indicate that they might be intent on taking Bangui," a United Nations spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said.
In Washington, the State Department expressed "deep concern" and warned all Americans to leave the country "until the security situation improved."
A department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, also said Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers had "authorized the departure of family members and nonemergency personnel from our embassy in Bangui."
With President François Bozizé's government now largely restricted to Bangui, troops sent by Chad last week are the only real obstacle to the rebel forces sitting about 200 miles away. Chadian troops previously helped Mr. Bozizé during rebellions in the north in 2010.
The rebels say the government has not honored peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011 that offered financial support and other help for insurgents who laid down their arms.
The demonstration on Wednesday had begun at the American Embassy, where protesters chanted calls for peace. But at the French Embassy, the mood turned violent, and they broke windows and tore down France's flag. Around 30 French soldiers arrived to provide extra security.
In Paris, President François Hollande called on Defense Minister to ensure the safety of the 1,200 or so French citizens in the country.
In a statement, the government in Bangui urged France to facilitate a dialogue with the rebels, who have met little resistance from the ill-equipped and underpaid Central African Army. Since the end of colonization in the 1960s, French troops in western Africa have often gone to the aid of former colonies whose governments were on the verge of being toppled.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.