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African Christians flee to airport

BANGUI, Central African Republic – Thousands of Christian civilians sought refuge at an airport guarded by French soldiers Friday, fleeing from the mostly Muslim ex-rebels with machetes and guns who rule the country a day after the worst violence to hit the chaotic capital in nine months.

When several French helicopters landed at the airport, people sang with joy as they banged on plastic buckets and waved rags into the air in celebration.

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. Thursday’s clashes left at least 280 dead, according to national radio, and have 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 had pledged to increase its presence in its former colony well before Christian militias attacked the capital at dawn Thursday. The arrival of additional French troops and equipment came as the capital teetered on the brink of total anarchy and represented the greatest hope for many Central Africans.

About 1,000 French forces were expected to be on the ground by Friday evening, a French defense official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

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