Major sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, has left at least 24 people dead and over 100 wounded over the weekend.
"The events of [Saturday] and [Sunday] are very serious. We count many crimes against property and persons," Security Minister Dominique Said Paguindji said in an interview, according to Foreign Policy. "We will deal with this situation diplomatically to avoid civilian casualties that would add to the death toll."
The Telegraph reported that the violence broke out after a Muslim taxi driver was found murdered wth his body dumped near an airport. The local Muslim population blamed Christian militiamen known as the Anti-Balaka for kidnapping the driver, and decided to attack the nearby Christian neighborhood of Miskine with automatic weapons, machetes and grenades, leading to a major clash.
The Muslims reportedly burned a church, a health center, and a police station, forcing thousands of people in the area to flee their homes.
"There was shooting all day and there are burning barricades," said Bienvenu, a resident of Miskine. "I'm stuck at home with my children. For now, we cannot go out."
The religiously divided country has been experiencing sectarian violence for years, with U.N. peacekeepers called in to try and restore some order.
The violence escalated in December 2012, when the Muslim rebel coalition of Seleka began a march on the capital, looting and pillaging the country, until they overthrew President Francois Bozize in March 2013.
The Anti-Balaka Christians rose up to fight the Seleka, splintering the country in religious violence that has left at least 6,000 people dead and another 800,000 displaced.
Some Christians have blamed interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, the first woman Head of State of the CAR, for failing to stop such clashes.
"Enough is enough. We want (President Catherine) Samba-Panza to go. Since she's been there the Muslims kill with impunity. She's doing nothing to disarm them," one protester told Reuters.
Protesters have also accused the U.N. of not doing enough to to intervene in the clashes over the weekend.
"We are calling for a civil disobedience movement starting now and we demand the immediate redeployment, without conditions, of the FACA," said civil society leader Gervais Lakossa.
Security Minister Paguindji said on state radio that citizens should not allow themselves to be influenced by extremists on both sides.
"The government asks the population not to cede to the manipulation of extremists who are seeking to set the country on fire to satisfy their selfish political ambitions," Paguindji said.
The Security Minister argued that the warring factions only want to divide the country and halt any progress toward stability.
CAR is set to vote for a new president and a new parliament on Oct. 18.