Clashes sweep Central Africa Republic capital

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Wielding rifles and machetes, armed Christian fighters who support the Central African Republic’s exiled president assaulted the capital at dawn on Thursday, leaving nearly 100 people dead. Shrouded bodies were lined up in a mosque as dozens of wounded lay on blood-stained hospital floors.

The ambush on Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui came as the United Nations voted to send a contingent of French troops to try to stabilize the country, and French President Francois Hollande announced plans to double the force. The daylong gunbattle touched even the most protected parts of the capital, including the residence of the prime minister, underscoring the volatile mix of arms and ideology facing the arriving French force.

Scores died in Thursday’s attack, including 48 people whose bodies were laid out at a mosque in a northern suburb of Bangui. Separately, a Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman, Amelie Ketoff, said another 50 deaths had been confirmed, bringing the toll to 98.

Some died of bullet wounds, others from what appeared to be machete blows using a weapon known in the local language as a “balaka.” The Christian militia, whose members are believed to have led the attack Thursday, call themselves the “anti-balaka,” reminiscent of the horrific violence once seen in Rwanda.

France already has hundreds of soldiers in Bangui, and an armored personnel carrier and other military vehicles patrolled the streets. The roads were otherwise bare except for the brightly painted pickup trucks driven by the ex-rebels who run the government.

The resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday allows France to send hundreds more troops for a temporary period. Speaking from the Elysee Palace in Paris, Hollande said the 600 troops already in the country would be doubled “within a few days, even a few hours” to around 1,200.

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