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Civilians venture out in Bangui as French troops patrol

AFP , Saturday 7 Dec 2013
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Life began returning to the Central African Republic capital Bangui on Saturday, two days after deadly clashes, but witnesses said an order for troops to return to barracks had gone largely unheeded.

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

Residents contacted by telephone said only sporadic gunfire could be heard overnight Friday, in stark contrast to the intense violence of the two previous nights.

As curfew ended at 6:00 am (0500 GMT) Saturday, civilians returned to the streets of the capital, where French troops in armoured vehicles maintained a visible presence.

"Some activity has resumed. Women stallholders are on the streets making fritters and porridge," one resident told AFP.

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 of up to 1,200.

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.

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