In a show of strength, French troops on Saturday patrolled Bangui and a fighter jet flew low over the city, where bodies still lay abandoned outside parliament.
“It is reassuring to see the French,” said Bangui petrol seller Adolphe.
The relief was also palpable in Bouar, 370 km (230 miles) northwest of the capital, one of France’s main military bases in Africa and a nerve centre for the area that saw some of the worst violence at the height of the Seleka rebellion.
“Save us! We have suffered so much,” shouted Cedric, 15, Life in the city began to regain some normality on Saturday, with traders reopening their stalls under colourful umbrellas and residents venturing out to check on relatives.
Residents contacted by telephone said only sporadic gunfire was heard on Friday night, in stark contrast to the intense violence of the two previous nights.
The latest violence appeared to vindicate recent warnings from France, the United States and others that the country was on the brink of collapse with tensions soaring between its Christian and Muslim communities.
Hollande ordered the launch of operation “Sangaris” – named after a local butterfly – on Thursday after winning a UN Security Council mandate to send a peacekeeping force to the country.
The UN resolution gives the French-backed African force a 12-month mandate and the right to use “all necessary measures” to restore order.
However, UN leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that up to 9,000 troops could be needed to quell violence that has spread through the country of 4.6 million, of whom 80 percent are Christian.
In an interview with French radio late on Saturday, Ban said the UN must “sooner or later” have a permanent peacekeeping presence in the country.
“I sincerely hope that MISCA will be transformed into a UN peacekeeping force,” he said.