BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Heavy gunfire erupted overnight in Central African Republic's capital as members of a Christian militia attacked police headquarters in a wave of violence that has left at least 36 people dead in recent days, witnesses said.
The unrest is the worst to hit the volatile country in nearly a year and comes as transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza is in New York at the U.N. General Assembly.
The renewed violence is "a big step backwards," said Marc Vandenberghe, the U.N.'s interim humanitarian coordinator in the country.
The Christian anti-Balaka militants assaulted the national police headquarters late Sunday, Public Security Minister Dominique Said Panguindji said Monday.
"They attacked the building in order to take weapons and ammunition, and they were repelled by the police officers," he said.
This round of violence intensified early Saturday as Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in Bangui after the dead body of a Muslim man was left near a mosque. At least 36 people have been killed, according to hospital workers.
Central African Republic erupted into unprecedented violence in late 2013 when a Christian militia formed to combat a Muslim rebel government that had overthrown the president of a decade. At one point Muslims were slain and dismembered in the streets of Bangui, though the violence ebbed as tens of thousands of Muslims fled the country and a U.N. peacekeeping force took over from a regional one.
The violence over the past week comes as the transitional government prepares to hold elections in October 18. Many believe that such a vote is nearly impossible given the lack of funds and destruction of voting records. Pope Francis is also due to visit in late November as part of his trip to Africa.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.