'Hundreds dead' in Central African Republic violence

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCrowds seeking refuge at Bangui airport cheered as French troops arrived

At least 300 people have been killed in two days of violence in the capital of the Central African Republic, says the Red Cross.

The organisation said its staff stopped collecting bodies in Bangui as night fell but would resume over the weekend, and expected the toll to rise.

Violence in the CAR has raised fears of mass killings along sectarian lines.

Hundreds of French troops are arriving in the city as part of a UN effort to restore law and order.

France was hoping to have around 1,000 troops - doubling its current force - in the CAR by Friday evening.

It followed a UN Security Council vote to allow French troops to join an African peacekeeping force in the CAR.

'Monster of a day'

Image caption France has pledged to send in hundreds of extra troops in the coming days to bolster peacekeeping efforts

Thursday's violence is thought to have begun when Christian militias, loyal to the CAR's ousted President Francois Bozize, launched multiple attacks from the north - sparking retaliatory attacks from mainly Muslim armed fighters loyal to the new leadership.

Residents spoke of gun battles in their neighbourhoods and hundreds fled to the airport seeking the protection of some of the French troops based there.

Dozens of bodies were reported to have been left lying in the roads, in areas too dangerous for people to collect them.

The Red Cross' president in the CAR, Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo, said his staff had collected 281 bodies as of Friday night and expected the number to rise significantly when they resume their work.

"Tomorrow is going to be a monster of a day. We're going to work tomorrow and I think we're going to need a fourth day too," he told Reuters news agency.

French soldiers were out on patrol on Friday and warplanes flew over Bangui in an attempt to quell two days of violence.

Christian Mukosa of Amnesty International said the capital was "effectively in shutdown" with doctors unable to get to hospitals to treat the dying and injured because of the insecurity.

Michel Djotodia, who ousted Mr Bozize in March, installed himself as the first Muslim leader in the Christian-majority country.

The mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition which brought him to power has been accused of atrocities against Christians.

Christian communities have now set up "anti-balaka" self-defence forces, most of them loyal to Mr Bozize.

"Balaka" means machete in the local Sango and Mandja languages.

The Selekas have been officially disbanded and some of them integrated into the army, but correspondents say it is often not clear who is in charge, even in the capital.