Michel Djotodia, a former rebel leader who was thrust into the CAR presidency after his Muslim fighters captured the country’s capital (Bangui) 10 months ago, has been widely criticised for failing to stop the inter-communal violence that exploded last month.
Wednesday’s trip marks the first time Mr Djotodia has left the volatile country since an attempted coup in early December.
Armed Christian fighters were behind that attack, and they have vowed to continue their battle until Mr Djotodia steps down.
France’s foreign minister said leaders from other states in Central Africa will meet Thursday to discuss whether Mr Djotodia should stay on as interim president.
A top French government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were some signs that Mr Djotodia would resign.
The official said France, the CAR’s former colonial ruler, was playing no role in the talks.
Mr Djotodia’s spokesman, Guy Simplice Kodegue, denied that the interim leader would step aside.
Mr Djotodia is the first Muslim president of a predominantly Christian country, and is accused of solidifying his hold on power with the help of mercenary fighters from Chad and Sudan.
His men - collectively known as Seleka - are accused of committing scores of atrocities against civilians since seizing power in March 2013.
Anger over the deteriorating situation has sparked waves of inter-communal violence.
Armed Christian militias who oppose Mr Djotodia’s leadership have also been accused of committing human rights abuses against CAR’s minority Muslim population in retaliation - beating and stoning to death suspected former Seleka members.
Religious leaders and the international community have appealed for peace, and thousands of French troops and regional African peacekeepers are trying to temper the mob violence now in CAR.
Tensions remain high, though, and nearly 1 million people - including more than 500-thousand in Bangui alone - have fled their homes.
As international criticism has grown over the rights abuses, Mr Djotodia sought to distance himself by formally disbanding his alliance of rebel groups.
Internal divisions also have emerged within the senior leadership, and Mr Djotodia has fired several of his former top allies.
Djotodia has agreed to hold elections by the end of the year, according to Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
The United States ambassador to the United Nations has urged the CAR interim government to step aside following that vote.
It was his departure that sparked an excellent finish from the Clippers, outscoring the Spurs 37-22 in the final quarter, although allowing the Clippers to go on a 19-0 run as the offense had a complete meltdown, turning the ball over 22 times, certainly didn’t help.
On the Clippers side of the equation, it was a big night for both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Griffin led the team with 27 points and 9 rebounds, not letting the Spurs get into his head. He went to the line 15 times, but was surprisingly efficient, hitting 11 shots. Chris Paul was remarkable, helping the Clippers keep the foot on the gas and maintaining a pace that was a bit too much for the Spurs, who weren’t in the right mindset to hold on. Paul had 23 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, playing quite well with Jamal Crawford next to him in the starting lineup, with the usually Sixth-Man scored 17 points.
Blake Griffin is showing yet another step in his evolution as a player – from a highlight film to a complete power forward, basing his game on more than just athleticism. He didn’t need passing and vision as much as in other games, but his moves in the post and his ability to slightly stretch his shooting range have made him quite the spectacle to watch when he’s playing and charging ahead in full steam.
For the Spurs, even though it is their fifth loss which might cause them to lose the shared top spot in the West, there’s nothing to really worry about. This team, more than anyone else in the league except for the Heat, is always about the long haul and the end result way ahead in April, May or hopefully June. They’re picking up things from these losses, and not turning any defeat, even if it by 23 points into something of a mini crisis. Not being in the eye of the national media helps as well.
For the Clippers, this was one of those wins that makes them feel that they can compete with the best in the West, especially considering they were the dominant side from top to bottom. Doc Rivers still has a problem getting this kind of energy level from his players and turning it into a full-game effort from his players, even against the “big” teams, but little by little, it seems like the job is doing, or maybe purely by coincidence, is making them stronger and more prepared for the challenges of the postseason.
However, like everything in the NBA, sometimes it all hinges on the ability and health of just one player – Chris Paul. And all the big wins and impressive high-flying dunks won’t be any good if once again the system collapses when the playoffs arrives.
When Brett Kratchman started out in the food business in 1986, his biggest concern was fitting his vending carts on Philadelphia street corners where planters were placed to discourage food trucks.
At the time, Kratchman was selling frozen-fruit bars and ice cream novelties. Today, his space needs run a tad larger.
The warehouse at BK Specialty Foods holds 875,000 bottles of beverages, and more than 7,000 varieties of consumable products, from cheese to sushi rice, ravioli to hummus. The freezer is 24,000 square feet.
And yet, with $25 million in annual sales, just under 60 employees, and a service area limited to four states, BK is considered a bite-size contender in the food-distribution industry, where global provider Sysco Corp.’s revenue is more than $11 billion.
Which is why, Kratchman surmises, Philadelphia officials weren’t apoplectic when the company recently moved from 65th and Eastwick in the city’s southwest section to Swedesboro, Gloucester County.
"I’m under their radar," he said. "We’re just a family-run business for close to 30 years. There’s tons of them in Philly."
BK’s move to New Jersey, underway since September, was completed last week, the same day city officials heralded the decision by specialty-chemical company FMC Corp. to remain in Philadelphia, committing to a 16-year lease at a new office tower to be built by Brandywine Realty Trust at 30th and Walnut Streets. With the added lure of $10 million in state grants, Philadelphia beat competing sites in New Jersey and Delaware to keep the headquarters, which employs 525.
Anne Bovaird Nevins, senior vice president of marketing and business development for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., said the agency had general discussions with Kratchman “about the types of programs that could be available to assist the company in terms of specific financial incentives and tax credits.”
Her understanding, confirmed by Kratchman, was that the city could not offer the type of property BK has moved to in the sprawling Pureland industrial park - a 48,000-square-foot warehouse on eight acres, with easy access to Interstates 95 and 295 and Route 130.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) sweetened the pot with a $333,022 Business Employment Incentive Grant. Under New Jersey’s Statewide Loan Pool Program, Sovereign Bank, now Santander Bank, is providing a $2.43 million commercial mortgage loan that included $1.08 million participation by the EDA, said Catherine Scangarella, director of state marketing.
"While we always want to be competitive and in the mix for every business retention and attraction opportunity, we also recognize the city isn’t going to be the absolute best fit for every single company," Nevins said.
Calling BK’s move out of Philadelphia “to some extent regrettable,” Kratchman was not bitter or angry, but nostalgic.
"I was born and raised in Philadelphia. It’s who I am," said the 53-year-old Temple University alum who wanted to be a lawyer specializing in the business side of professional sports - until he started making serious money from a bartending job and his frozen-dessert carts, which had added juices to its offerings.
Kratchman had partnered with his sister Karen’s husband, Bret Gold.
Location: 965 W. 6th St.,
Gilroy, CA, 95020
Their Natural Juice Co. of Philadelphia served retail and food-service clients, and exploded in growth when it added specialty beverages, such as Honest Tea and Arizona Iced Tea.
Next came frozen breads and hors d’oeuvres - and a huge boost in 1993, when Whole Foods signed on to let BK be its East Coast distributor for bakery, olives, and other condiments.
More growth came through acquisitions of a coffee roaster and cheese importer, and a specialty-food business featuring vinegars, caviars, and oils.
Kratchman carries some family brands too. BK is the only regional distributor of oysters from brother Barry’s Little Shemogue Oyster Co., which the Norristown eel importer established on a secluded cold-water bay in New Brunswick, Canada. BK, which supplies most of Atlantic City’s casinos and many hotels and universities, also carries desserts from the Philadelphia-based wholesale baker Classic Cake, co-owned by Barry Kratchman and Bret and Karen Gold, among others.
Critical to such a business are freezers and trucks. Conditions in BK’s Philadelphia facility were lacking in both areas. It was just 12,000 square feet - half the size of the freezer in the new place - and in a neighborhood where the narrow streets were challenging for trucks.
"I was tired of trucks knocking down light poles - and the traffic," Kratchman said.
At his new headquarters and warehouse, in a conference room lined with framed photos of familiar Philadelphia sites - Boathouse Row, the Art Museum, Fairmount Park, the Center City skyline - Kratchman wanted to make clear that his company’s move was nothing against the city. Though he did gripe about taxes, traffic, and crime.
"I’m very proud of the city and love it," Kratchman said. "Maybe one day I’ll go back there - not as a business."
675k - muffins sold each year.
24k - cubic square feet of BK’s new freezer.
800k - miles driven each year by BK trucks.
7,000 - different types of products in the BK warehouse from more than 40 countries.