Bangui - Central Africa's prime minister called on Wednesday for a pause in the country's devastating sectarian violence so that the beleaguered population can enjoy the World Cup that starts on Thursday.
Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke said the football tournament -- and the month of Ramadan that starts at the end of June -- were an opportunity to step back from the brutal attacks that have killed thousands over the past year.
"Many people have agreed to an end or a suspension of the social unrest, to allow the population and particularly young people, to fully enjoy this event that happens only once every four years," said Nzapayeke at a press conference in the capital Bangui.
"Let's not waste this period during which the whole world is united around a single king called football," he added.
He warned the nation's youth, many of whom have been dragged into the violence: "Those who are 16 -- if you waste this period, know that you will be 20 before the next cup comes along.
"Take this opportunity that the world has offered to admire our stars," he added, citing African heroes Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba.
Central Africa Republic itself failed to make it to the World Cup finals in Brazil, losing in the second round of African qualifiers.
Nzapayeke also referred to the Muslim festival of Ramadan which starts on June 28, which he called "a time of peace and love, a time when we help each other. I look forward to the boiled lemon sweets and the small treats of the joyous evenings of Ramadan."
The country has plunged into an unprecedented cycle of violence since a coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group in March 2013, and the emergence of a mostly Christian militia in response.
Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee, with almost the entire Muslim population driven out of Bangui since the Seleka regime was pushed out of power in January.