Bangui (Central African Republic): Dozens of Muslims marched down the streets of Bangui on Tuesday to demand the departure of French troops, who were deployed to Central African Republic this month to try to pacify fighting and have been accused of taking sides in the nation`s sectarian conflict.
The marchers, almost all of them young and male, began their demonstration in the Kilometre 5 neighbourhood, a mostly Muslim section of the capital which has been the scene of clashes with French forces.
It marks a dangerous turning point for the more than 1,600 French soldiers sent here, who were initially cheered by the population, who ran out to greet the arriving troops, waving tree branches, and holding up pieces of cardboard emblazoned with welcoming messages.
That was before French President Francois Hollande bluntly said that the country`s Muslim President needed to go, and before French forces were accused of only disarming Muslim fighters and ignoring the Christian militias who have infiltrated the city, organising attacks on mosques, and on neighbourhoods like Kilometer 5, where a majority of Muslims live.
The crowds making their way down the deserted city streets were holding signs that said: "We say No to France!" Other signs had a hand drawn map of this nation located at the heart of Africa, but showed it split into two, with a Muslim homeland pencilled in in the country`s north.
Central African Republic slipped into chaos following a coup in March, which was led by a Muslim rebel group. They overran the capital and installed a Muslim president, while the nation`s Christian leader was forced to flee with his family. The country is 85 percent Christian, and when the Muslim rebels began attacking Christian villages, first to steal their belongings and cattle, a sectarian divide emerged.
Pillaging turned to killing, and by the time French forces arrived earlier this month, at least 500 people had been killed in communal violence, including mob lynchings, their bodies so numerous community leaders had to dig enormous holes for their mass graves.