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Bangui calm as French CAR intervention begins

Outside a mosque in Bangui where bodies of victims of anti-balaka attacks were laid out
Outside a mosque in Bangui where bodies of victims of anti-balaka attacks were laid out Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

Residents of Bangui started to appear on the streets on Saturday morning, as French troops started to patrol the Central African Republic (CAR) capital. Deposed president François Bozizé told RFI that he backs the UN-backed French intervention.

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French armoured cars were patrolling Bangui on Saturday, with one reported to have appeared in front of the presidential palace, and civilians started to leave their homes in search of food and other necessities.

Nobody had moved in the capital for 48 hours, following an explosion of violence that cost at least 300 lives before dawn on Thursday.

Interim President Michel Djotodia called on the CAR armed forces to withdraw to barracks on Friday, authorising only troops from the French military, the African intervention force, Misca, and his own presidential guard to patrol, although response to the order appeared to be slow.

Thousands of people have taken refuge at Bangui airport, which French troops have been protecting.

Muslim Seleka rebels are reported to have attacked a hospital outside Bangui and killed at least 10 people.

Hundreds of residents of the western town of Bouar lined the streets to welcome a column of French troops that arrived there on Saturday.

The US has welcomed the French intervention, hailing Paris's "leadership" in its former colony.

Washington has donated about 40-million-dollars-worth od aid in equipment, training and logistics to the African force but is reported to be reluctant to send troops.

Former CAR president François Bozizé welcomed the French troops' presence on Saturday and denied having any connection with the Christian anti-balaka militias that have sprung up.

"On 24 March, as I was leaving Bangui, I gave the French ambassador a letter in which I demanded an intervention by France for the security of the Central African Republic," he told RFI.

Paris at the time refused to intervene to save Bozizé, who it judged to be corrupt.

"They didn't listen, the consequences are here," Bozizé said. "It's a great disaster. There you are!"

The former president insisted that the anti-balaka developed spontaneously without his encouragement but said he could have "sympathisers" in their ranks.

"That's natural!" he said. "In the present situation they must refer to someone who brought them happiness, peace, joy and tanquility. That's Bozizé!"

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