Bangui - Two people were killed during anti-government protests in the Central African Republic on Friday following a wave of violent clashes across the capital Bangui.
Troops and police fired warning shots in a bid to stop thousands of protesters who had gathered in different parts of Bangui on Friday calling for the interim government to resign, witnesses and military sources told AFP.
They were also demanding the removal of the Burundian contingent of the African peacekeeping forces amid charges it has permitted attacks on Christians.
Meanwhile, the United Nations increased the toll from a deadly attack on a church in Bangui on Wednesday and said 27 people had been kidnapped.
The attack on Notre Dame de Fatima church “has resulted in the deaths of at least 17 displaced people and 27 civilians reportedly abducted by assailants who drove them to an unknown location,” said Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokeswoman for the UN's refugee agency in Geneva.
“We have no idea where they have taken them.”
Among those killed was the priest at the church, where thousands of displaced people had sought refuge, according to police and military sources.
“The attackers, who arrived on pick-up trucks in the early afternoon, threw grenades into the church ground before opening fire on people, using small arms. A priest was killed during the attack while two children and two adults succumbed to their injuries on Thursday,” said Lejeune-Kaba.
“The church is now completely empty. Many fled without anything, no money, no food, not even a mat to sleep on. Others had bullet wounds that need to be attended to urgently.”
Members of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels have been blamed for the attack, but Lejeune-Kaba said the authorities “really don't know” if they were involved.
On Friday, bursts of automatic weapons fire were heard in the central Bangui neighbourhood that is home to the presidential palace, and in the area of the airport on the outskirts of the city.
Violence in the capital “has increased drastically since last weekend”, said Lejeune-Kaba, prompting the authorities to set up many checkpoints on the main roads. No vehicles were circulating on Friday.
The French and African peacekeeping force said on Friday that it would “react with the greatest determination” to any threats against its soldiers or locals in Bangui.
A joint statement from the forces, released via Central African radio, said: “People of Bangui, do not oppose the movement of international forces. Do not build barricades, do not prevent its operations.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned recent attacks, calling on authorities to take “concrete measures to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.”
The deeply impoverished, majority Christian country has been wracked by relentless tit-for-tat attacks between Christian vigilante groups and the mainly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels who seized control in a coup last year but were forced from power in January.
There are 425 000 internally displaced people across the country, and a further 121 000 refugees in neighbouring countries.