Insurgents captured the Central African Republic's airport, large swaths of its capital and several presidential residences while President Ange-Felix Patasse was in Niger.
Rebels entered the capital, Bangui, from the north amid intense artillery and small-arms fire. They are loyalists of former army chief Francois Bozize.
Thousands of singing and dancing civilians ransacked Patasse's lavish private residence, shouting "Patasse out!" as the rebels watched. It was unclear how much resistance the rebels faced or whether there were any casualties.