At least 21 people were killed in the capital of Central African Republic on Saturday and around 100 others were wounded as Muslims attacked a mainly Christian neighborhood, senior hospital officials and a government spokesman said.
The reprisal attack in Bangui came after a Muslim man was killed and his body found dumped in a street close to the airport, witnesses said. It is the worst violence this year in a city secured by French and United Nations peacekeepers.
Two years of violence in the landlocked country, which erupted after Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013, has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to leave their homes.
The fighting left the country divided when Muslims were chased from the south. There had not been any attacks in Bangui for months until a grenade attack earlier in September.
Muslims left their stronghold in the 3rd district of Bangui on Saturday and attacked the largely Christian 5th district using automatic guns, heavier weapons and grenades.
The Voice of Peace Muslim community radio station and a church in the 5th district were among the buildings attacked.
Thousands of residents fled to other parts of the capital and attackers who also wielded machetes and knives burned houses and cars, witnesses said.
U.N. helicopters with a peacekeeping force flew overhead but witnesses said little was done to stop the attacks.
Security Minister Dominique Said Paguindji blamed the violence on elements of the anti-balaka, the Seleka and supporters of former President Francois Bozize who want to see him return to power.
"These armed groups don\’t subscribe to a logic of disarmament and want to split the country," he said. "All of these people have the same interest in wanting to see the transition ruined and the coming elections halted."
Voters are due to elect a new president and parliament on Oct. 18 to replace an interim government led by Catherine Samba-Panza. Preparations are lagging and the head of the interim parliament said the polls will likely be postponed again.