Thousands of Christians have fled to a Central African Republic airport guarded by French soldiers, seeking refuge from mostly Muslim ex-rebels who rule the country, Belfast Telegraph reported.
People sang with joy and banged on plastic buckets and waved rags into the air as several French helicopters landed at the airport in Bangui, a day after bloody clashes in the capital left at least 280 dead .
Outside the barbed wire fences of the airport, bodies lay decomposing along the roads in a capital too dangerous for many to collect the corpses. The violence has raised fears that waves of retaliatory attacks could soon follow.
"They are slaughtering us like chickens," said Appolinaire Donoboy, a Christian whose family remained in hiding.
France pledged to increase its presence in its former colony well before Christian militias attacked the capital at dawn. The arrival of additional French troops and equipment came as Bangui teetered on the brink of total anarchy and represented the greatest hope for many Central Africans.
About 1,000 French forces were expected on the ground last night, a French defence spokesman said.
As night fell, Christians fearing retaliatory attacks by the ex-rebels crowded as close to the runway as possible, laying out their woven mats in front of a barbed wire coiled fence. National radio announced that at least 280 people had died, citing figures from Red Cross officials.
The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply concerned" by the violence and praised France's quick intervention.
France signalled its amped up presence by sending out armoured vehicles to patrol the streets. A French fighter jet made several flyovers, roaring through the sky over an otherwise lifeless capital as civilians cowered at home. Britain also flew in a C17 plane yesterday, loaded with equipment to help the French intervention.
As many as 250 French troops are carrying out permanent patrols in Bangui and "we didn't notice any direct clashes between armed groups today", said French military spokesman Col Gilles Jaron.
But on Thursday, 10 armed attackers in a pick-up truck fired on a French position at the airport, with weapons including with a rocket-propelled grenade whose charge did not detonate. French forces returned fire, killing four attackers and wounding six.