Bangui - Violence erupted between international peacekeepers and militias in the Central African Republic capital Bangui on Wednesday, military sources said.
The African Union force known as Misca exchanged fire with anti-balaka fighters holed up in areas around the international airport, an AFP photographer witnesses.
Heavy gunfire and explosions from rockets and grenades could be heard near the airport, where protesters have erected barricades against international forces deployed in the troubled country.
Subduing the mostly Christian anti-balaka forces, who emerged last year to wreak havoc on the strife-torn country's Muslim minority, is one of the priorities for African and French troops sent to help restore order amid deadly chaos.
But some in the majority Christian Central African Republic have reacted angrily to the operation against the anti-balaka.
Small groups of protesters put up barricades on the main road leading to the airport, while a few hundred metres from the entrance 200 to 300 young men shouted slogans denouncing French and African troops as well as the country's transitional authorities.
Interim President Samba Panza has vowed to "go to war" on the anti-balaka, who claim to seek vengeance for atrocities committed by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Seleka, which temporarily seized power in March last year.
The Seleka coup plunged the country into chaos, unleashing a wave of Muslim-Christian violence that has left thousands dead. Hundreds of thousands of people have also been displaced by the brutal surge of killings, mutilations, rapes and looting.
Around 100 people from a vast refugee camp by the airport sought refuge in the terminal building but were ordered back by French soldiers.
Gunfire also rang out before dawn in the Boy-Rabe neighbourhood, an anti-balaka stronghold to the north of the city, although the origin wasn't clear.