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BANGUI, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Heavy and small arms fire rang out in the capital of Central African Republic on Thursday morning, a Reuters correspondent in Bangui said.
It was not immediately clear who was involved in the pre-dawn shooting but residents panicked and former rebels controlling the city scrambled fighters in the direction of the gunfire.
The U.N. Security Council is due to vote later on Thursday on dispatching French reinforcements to restore order in the country, which has slipped into chaos since mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March, leading to tit-for-tat sectarian violence.
Michel Djotodia, leader of the Seleka former rebel alliance, is now the country's interim president but he has struggled to control his loose band of fighters, many of whom are gunmen from neighbouring Chad and Sudan.
Mainly Christian local defence groups, known as "anti-balaka", have sprung up as a result of abuses committed by the former rebels.
"This morning we woke up and there was shooting everywhere. We asked ourselves if the "anti-balaka" were not already in town," Wilfred Koyamba, a Bangui resident told Reuters.
"When Seleka entered, there were dead Christians. This time it could be worse ... We need the French. The French have to come quickly," he said.
Several French armoured personnel carriers were seen driving through the streets of the riverside town early on Thursday.
France has had 400 troops in Bangui to control the airport and protect French interests but reinforcements have been dispatched to prepare for the 1,000-strong force that is due to help a struggling African peacekeeping mission restore order. (Reporting by Emmanuel Braun; Writing by David Lewis; editing by Patrick Graham)