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France to step up military presence in CAR

AFP

Clashes on the streets of the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui appeared to have eased on Saturday as French troop reinforcements arrived in the country, but there were still reports of attacks targeting civilians.

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Violence on the streets of the Central African Republic's capital Bangui appeared to have eased on Saturday as French troop reinforcements arrived in the country, but there were still reports of attacks targeting civilians.

Bangui’s terrified residents had been confined to their homes since an explosion of sectarian violence early Thursday that the Red Cross said claimed at least 300 lives.

“We’re still getting reports that armed groups have been carrying out exactions, targeting civilian populations,” FRANCE 24’s Alexander Turnbull reported from Bangui. “Men carrying knives, carrying machetes. Some residents have been saying that they saw these armed men storm their neighbour’s house.”

As curfew ended at 6am (0500 GMT) Saturday, French soldiers in armoured vehicles maintained a visible presence in the streets of the capital.

French President François Hollande announced later on Saturday that there would be 1,600 troops in the country by the evening.

Troops deploy beyond Bangui

FRANCE 24's Alexander Turnbull reports from Bangui, Central African Republic

French forces also began deploying to the north and west of the landlocked country to secure main roads and towns outside the capital.

“We have started to deploy outside of Bangui,” French army spokesman Gilles Jarron said on Saturday.

“The French forces pre-positioned in Cameroon have crossed the border and have started reconnaissance missions in the west.”

“We have also started the first missions from Bangui towards the north of the country.”

Fewer armed men on the streets

An order by President Michel Djotodia for all armed groups except international forces to return to their barracks had gone largely unheeded by Friday evening, although locals said there appeared to be fewer armed men on the streets.

“There are fewer of them,” said one. “The French presence is providing reassurance.”

France deployed nearly 1,000 troops Friday to help restore security in its former colony, where the United Nations has mandated a peacekeeping force.

The Central African Republic has descended into chaos since a motley coalition of rebel fighters known as Seleka overthrew the government in March and installed their own chief, Djotodia, as president the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian country.

Djotodia has officially disbanded Seleka, but has proved unable to control the fighters who swept him to the presidency.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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