Pope Francis appealed for an "immediate halt to violence and looting" in the Central African Republic after a coup toppled the country's government over the weekend.

"I call for an immediate halt to the violence and looting, and a political solution to the crisis to be found as soon as possible that would restore peace and harmony to that dear country for too long marked by conflict and division," he said March 27 at his first general audience.

"I am closely following what is currently happening in the Central African Republic and wish to assure my prayers for all those who are suffering, especially the relatives of the victims, the wounded and those who have lost their homes and have been forced to flee," he told the thousands of pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square today.

Michel Djotodia, the leader of the rebels, ousted President Francois Bozize in a coup over the weekend.

Djotobia said in a March 26 statement that he is suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament.

During the coup, 13 South African troops who were sent in January to support the government against the rebels, were killed on the outskirts of the capital, Bangui.
The rebels have accused the president of breaking January's peace deal, which created a power-sharing government composed of rebels, civilian opposition and Bozize loyalists.

In the wake of the government being overthrown, Doctors Without Borders reported widespread looting of hospitals in the capital city, Bangui.

UNICEF warned March 26 that the lives of 600,000 children in Central African Republic are being seriously affected by the ongoing conflict across the country.

Even before the fighting, the U.N. agency estimated that 2,500 children, boys and girls, were in the country's armed groups.