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Hundreds killed in religious clashes

Residents of the Central African Republic gathered in churches to mourn yesterday after hundreds of people were killed in violence between Christian and Muslim communities, prompting France to intervene in its former colony.

Residents and aid workers described a period of relative calm after three days of fighting but said sporadic gunfire had continued overnight in some areas.

The Central African Republic has descended into chaos as interim president Michel Djotodia, who seized power in March, has struggled to control his loose band of Muslim fighters, who have attacked members of the Christian majority and prompted them to organise defence militias.

The country, rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, has seen little but conflict and political instability since independence from France in 1960.

The Red Cross has reported 394 dead since the latest wave of killings began on December 5 and said it was working to recover the remaining bodies.

Residents of both faiths have huddled in churches for protection from the armed groups.

Thousands of people attended a Sunday morning service at St Paul's church in the riverside capital of Bangui. Makeshift beds inside the church were removed temporarily to allow space for prayer.

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