French troops received a triumphant welcome Saturday on the streets of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, as warplanes and helicopters swooped low over the embattled city and residents cheered.
The deployment came as French President Francois Hollande said French reinforcements to a United Nations-mandated force would reach 1,600 by the end of the day — 400 more than originally planned.
Hollande, speaking in Paris, said the French force had been ordered to disarm "all militias and armed groups terrorizing the population" in the city, where relief workers have collected hundreds of corpses since Thursday.
Residents were quoted as saying an earlier order by CAR President Michel Djotodia for all armed groups to withdraw from street fighting went largely unheeded. Djotodia also urged civil servants and traders in the city to return to work and said "African and French forces will assure the protection of all."
Separately, the French president questioned the effectiveness of the Djotodia government, telling France 24 television "you can\’t leave a president in power who hasn\’t managed to change anything or who has let things get worse."
Hollande also called for elections in the CAR by 2015, and said French forces will remain in the former French colony "as long as necessary."
The impoverished CAR spiraled into chaos and violence after the rebel Seleka movement seized power in March, ousting President Francois Bozize.
President Djotodia\’s weak interim government has been unable to exert control over mostly Muslim ex-Seleka fighters, who are blamed for a surge in killings and other crimes. However, analysts say the mostly Christian armed opposition groups known as anti-balaka — balaka means machete — also have contributed to the violence.
The group Doctors Without Borders says medical facilities in Bangui have been overloaded with wounded patients. The organization said many of the patients had been shot or injured in machete or knife attacks.
The CAR has endured decades of instability since winning independence from France in 1960.
On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council authorized France to boost its troop presence in the former French colony.
Also, an African troop contingent known as MISCA is expanding its forces from 2,500 to 3,600 troops.
On Friday, the CAR government ordered all CAR security forces to "return to their barracks" in Bangui, leaving only French and MISCA forces to patrol the city.