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Chadian peacekeepers fire on protesters in Central African Republic

French military personnel try to control supporters who are asking them to disarm fighting gangs, near the airport in Bangui December 23, 20
French military personnel try to control supporters who are asking them to disarm fighting gangs, near the airport in Bangui December 23, 20

By Paul-Marin Ngoupana

BANGUI (Reuters) - Chadian peacekeepers fired on a crowd demonstrating against their presence in the capital of Central African Republic, where at least nine people were killed in inter-religious violence on Monday.

Protesters said the Chadian gunfire had killed one person and wounded several others.

The clash was the latest sign of rising tension between the majority Christian population in Bangui and the Chadian forces, complicating international efforts to calm violence in the large, landlocked African state.

Locals accuse the Chadian troops of siding with Seleka fighters, who have unleashed a wave of looting, rapes and killing after toppling President Francois Bozize in March. Many of the Seleka rebels come from neighboring Chad and Sudan.

Sporadic fighting took place in several parts of Bangui between Seleka gunmen and members of the Christian self-defense militias, called anti-balaka. A Red Cross official said at least nine bodies had been gathered from the streets of the riverside city on Monday.

An officer with the African Union peacekeeping mission (MISCA) confirmed that Chadian peacekeepers had clashed with demonstrators near the airport at Bangui, but gave no details.

A spokesman for the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said around 40 people had been treated at its airport medical center after the gunfire, most of them lightly hurt in a panicked stampede.

MSF spokesman Martin Searle said one person had been treated for a minor gunshot wound. Three people had been seriously injured after being hit by a vehicle.

Protesters said the Chadians drove their vehicle at the crowd after demonstrators threw stones at them. "No Chadians in Bangui" chanted members of the crowd, while others waved placards saying "No to the Chadian army", the protesters said.

France has sent 1,600 troops to Central African Republic in a humanitarian mission to protect civilians from inter-religious violence.

However, scores of demonstrators took to the streets of Bangui on Sunday to complain that French forces were disarming only Seleka fighters, exposing Muslims to revenge attacks by anti-balaka. The Christian militia killed 1,000 people in two days of violence in early December, according to Amnesty International.

Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye called a news conference on Monday to confirm that his government supported the French deployment, a day after an adviser to interim President Michel Djotodia said France should withdraw.

Chad began flights on Saturday to repatriate its citizens from Bangui airport amid rising resentment against them. Some 500 Chadians have already been evacuated, Chadian officials said.

Chadian peacekeepers were accused of standing aside in March to allow Seleka fighters to oust Bozize and to install their leader Djotodia as interim head of state.

The Chadian troops are part of a nearly 4,000-strong African Union mission meant to impose peace and security in the volatile, mineral-rich nation at the heart of Africa.

The AU operation is due to reach 6,000 troops by late January but analysts say its inefficacy may require a U.N. peacekeeping mission to deploy. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is preparing a proposal for a possible mission.

Neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which is battling decades of violence in its east, said on Saturday it would send 850 troops to join the AU mission in Central African Republic.

On Monday, the European Union announced a ban on the export of arms and the sending of mercenaries to Central African Republic, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution. The EU ban comes into effect on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Paul Marin Ngoupana; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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