Central African Republic's President Francois Bozize is reported to have fled the capital early this morning, hours after hundreds of armed rebels threatening to overthrow him invaded the city.

The rebel alliance, known as Seleka, reached the outskirts of Bangui late last night.

Heavy gunfire echoed through the city as the fighters made their way into the centre and seized the presidential palace.

However, the country's leader for the past decade was not there at the time.

"Bozize left the city this morning," said Maximin Olouamat, a member of Mr Bozize's presidential majority.

He declined to say where the president had gone.

France has announced that it is sending more troops to the country to protect its citizens there.

The statement from President Francois Hollande's office gave no details of troop numbers.

The office did say however that Mr Hollande had spoken with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Chadian President Idriss Deby.

It said Mr Hollande repeated his plea for restraint and dialogue between all parties.

Rebels from several armed groups that have long opposed Mr Bozize joined forces in December and began seizing towns across the country's sparsely populated north.

They threatened at the time to march on Bangui, but ultimately halted their advance and agreed to go to peace negotiations in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

A peace deal was signed 11 January that allowed Mr Bozize to finish his term that expires in 2016, but the rebels soon began accusing the president of failing to fulfil the promises that were made.

They demanded that Mr Bozize send home South African forces who were helping bolster the country's military.

The deal unravelled more than a week ago, with the rebels again taking control of two towns and threatening to advance on the capital.

Late Saturday, Bangui was plunged into darkness after fighters cut power to much of the city. State radio went dead, and fearful residents cowered in their homes.

"For us, there is no other solution than the departure of Francois Bozize," said rebel spokesman Eric Massi from Paris last night.

Mr Massi said the rebels were securing the city, and he called on residents to remain calm and avoid looting amid the chaos.

The growing unrest is the latest threat to the stability of Central African Republic, a nation of 4.5 million that has long been wracked by rebellions and coups.

The president himself took power in 2003 following a rebellion, and his tenure has been marked by conflict with myriad armed groups.