Gunfire, protests erupt in Central African Republic capital

A general view shows a part of the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

U.N. peacekeepers and armed men exchanged fire on Monday in Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, the United Nations said, while hundreds of protesters gathered to call for the mission’s departure.

Crowds gathered near a major roundabout, carrying anti-U.N. posters, throwing stones and shouting at their troops who responded with warning shots, a Reuters witness said.

One injured man was carried onto a police truck but it was unclear how he was wounded.

Central African Republic has been in chaos since early 2013 when fighting between mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka Christian militias prompted the establishment of the MINUSCA mission a year later.

Criticism of the 13,000-strong mission has mounted in recent weeks with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough to protect them. Civil society groups called for a general strike on Monday to pressure the mission to leave.

“We have seen that their mission has no use and it’s just better that they leave,” said IT engineer Didier Fabrice Balandegue as gunfire rang out in the background.

Spokesman for MINUSCA Herve Verhoosel said a brief firefight broke out in the morning when a U.N. patrol was fired at by unidentified armed men.

“There were other cases where we fired warning shots and removed barricades,” he said by telephone, adding that he was not aware of any casualties. The streets are now calm, he said.

The civil society groups launched a petition last week calling for MINUSCA’s departure and the rearming of the national armed forces, currently subject to an arms embargo.

Most residents in the city of 1 million people heeded the call not to go work on Monday and many shops were shut and taxis were in short supply.

MINUSCA has been dogged by dozens of allegations of sexual abuse, prompting a broad U.N. inquiry. Chadian troops within the mission were also accused in 2014 of killing 30 civilians in a crowded market, prompting the withdrawal of its troops.

This month 30 people were killed and dozens wounded during an attack on refugees by Seleka forces, although violence in the capital in recent months has been rare.

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