Thousands await French protection in Central African Republic
Thousands of people have crowded into a field outside the Central African Republic's main airport, hoping that French soldiers will protect them after bloodshed in the capital left more than 100 people dead.
With Bangui hovering on the edge of anarchy, French military reinforcements – including a fighter jet, helicopters and, on the ground, armoured vehicles – headed into one of the world's poorest countries.
Streets in the city were empty except for military vehicles and the trucks favoured by rebel forces who now claim control of the government.
There was no repeat of Thursday's clashes, which left more than 100 people dead in Bangui when Christian militias raided Muslim neighbourhoods. Still, it remains an open question how France can achieve even its limited goals in the six months allotted to the mission.
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Muslim rebels have run rampant in the Central African Republic after toppling the president in March, fighting against Christian militias who back the ousted leader. The capital remains awash with weapons and recent attempts at disarmament have yielded little success.
Despite the cheers that went up yesterday when jet engines roared overhead, France insisted it was going only reluctantly into the Central African Republic and with limited aims for an expected force of 1,200.
"You have to secure, you have to disarm," French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. "You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits, the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles."
Mr Le Drian said French forces protecting the airport opened fire on Thursday on a rebel pick-up truck bearing down on them, killing several men inside. He described the shooting as "legitimate defence". Meanwhile, the British Government was flying in military equipment to the Central African Republic to help with the French intervention.