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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 15:12 GMT
New ethnic violence in Ivory Coast
Demonstrators outside the US embassy in Abidjan
Protesters are asking the US for help against France
At least six people have been killed in ethnic clashes in Ivory Coast, as thousands of supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo protest for a fourth day against a French-brokered peace deal.

President Laurent Gbagbo
Do not worry, what was said at Marcoussis only amounted to propositions

President Laurent Gbagbo
The fighting broke out in Agboville, 80km from Abidjan, between armed members of the local Abbey ethnic group and Dioulas, a Muslim group from the north of the country, residents told the French news agency, AFP.

Mr Gbagbo has played down the agreement he signed to share power with the rebels calling it a "proposition".

Mr Gbagbo's supporters accuse the French of forcing him to concede power to rebels, who have controlled the largely Muslim north of the country for the past four months.

On Monday, he urged the protesters in Abidjan to return home and allow him to explain his position.

Army reinforcements

Both churches and mosques have reportedly been burnt in Agboville.

The army has sent reinforcements and the situation is "calming down," army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jules Yao Yao said.

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Relief workers say that uniformed men burnt homes in an immigrant suburb of Abidjan overnight.

Muslims and African immigrants have been accused of backing the rebels by government loyalists.

About one million people have been displaced by the conflict.

Ivory Coast used to be a beacon of peace and prosperity in West Africa, attracting millions of migrant workers and refugees.

Meanwhile, France has promised extra security for its nationals in Ivory Coast.

Many westerners have been afraid to leave their homes after reports that they were being attacked by the Gbagbo loyalists.

In another sign of increasing tension, Air France announced on Tuesday that it was suspending all its flights to Abidjan and streamlining its staff there.

In the recent demonstrations, Mr Gbagbo's supporters have attacked French targets, including its embassy and a military base, and have asked the United States to intervene on their behalf.

'Two-faced Gbagbo'

Up to 6,000 protesters again gathered outside the French and US embassies, which are close together in the centre of the commercial capital, Abidjan.

A French helicopter has flown in extra troops to the embassy while US marines have taken up positions on the roof of its embassy.

Open in new window : Ivory Coast
Click here for pictures of the conflict
"We're xenophobes, so what?" some of the crowd chanted.

"Our freedom is in your hands, USA," read one placard.

But the BBC's Tom McKinley in Abidjan says the Americans are unlikely to come out against the agreement.

Guards at a French military base and the embassy fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds on Monday, but the unrest died down in the afternoon as the loyalists rallied near the presidential palace.

Destroyed French Cultural Centre
French targets have been attacked

"Do not worry, what was said at Marcoussis [a small town near Paris] only amounted to propositions," the president told them.

In the wake of the protests, the rebels have accused Mr Gbagbo of being two-faced.

"I must say we are not surprised by this double game and the double speak because we knew he would call these accords into question," one of the rebel leaders, Guillaume Soro, said.

Our correspondent says that Mr Gbagbo is in a difficult position.

Not only must he satisfy his staunchest supporters, but also the army, which has called the deal a humiliation.

His defence and security chiefs are particularly alarmed by reports that the rebels will be given control over the national army under the French-brokered peace deal.

  The BBC's Tom McKinley on Focus on Africa
"It is very difficult to pin down a figure on how many people have actually been killed"

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27 Jan 03 | Africa
25 Jan 03 | Africa
25 Jan 03 | Africa
28 Jan 03 | Africa
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