UN peacekeeping troops on Sunday fired warning shots and used armoured vehicles to seal off an area of the Paynseville suburb where gangs of Christian and Muslim youths armed with sticks and knives fought running battles in the streets.

Witnesses said some of the Muslim youths were carrying AK-47 rifles. Sporadic shots could be heard as residents fled, holding their hands in the air as they ran to show they were unarmed.

One man was carried away from the fray, bleeding from a wound to his neck.

At least seven people were killed in similar clashes on Friday in the coastal capital of the West African country of roughly three million people.

Cause unclear

Religious strife has been relatively uncommon in Liberia, where battle lines during almost 14 years of civil war have traditionally been drawn along loose ethnic or regional divisions.

The riots have seen mosques and
churches burned by mobs

The cause of the clashes was not immediately clear. The rioting youths emerged in defiance of a curfew imposed after the rioting on Friday, when mosques and churches were burned before UN troops were deployed to restore order.

On Sunday, witnesses said Ghanaian and Nigerian peacekeepers arrested about 40 men, forcing them to lie on the ground after searching a house and finding weapons inside.

The troops form part of a 15,000-strong peacekeeping contingent, the world's largest, sent to oversee a peace deal signed last year to end the civil war.

Liberia is struggling to emerge from the conflict which crippled the economy, creating an explosive mix of hundreds of thousands of jobless youths and relatively easy access to guns.

About 20% of Liberia's population is Muslim, 40% Christian and 40% follows animist beliefs.