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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 15:33 GMT
France urges Ivory Coast pull-out
French family at the airport
The French were told not to return
France has told its nationals to leave Ivory Coast, as hundreds of stone-throwing youths block the airport in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Up to 1,500 French nationals are trapped in the airport by supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo.

We advise those French nationals whose presence in Ivory Coast is not essential to leave the country

French foreign ministry
French troops have intervened and one soldier was injured in the face by a stone.

Mr Gbagbo's supporters accuse former colonial power France of forcing him to share power with rebels at peace talks held in Paris last week.

The man named in the peace deal as the new prime minister, Seydou Elimane Diarra, was due to arrive in Abidjan on Friday to start forming a new government.

He was in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, where West African leaders were discussing the Ivory Coast crisis.

"Diarra is the prime minister of the French," shouted the protesters, as they burnt the French flag.

They taunted the French families trying to leave, telling them not to return.

Plane leaves

Some 16,000 French nationals are resident in Ivory Coast and some large companies earlier this week chartered planes to fly out the families of their staff.

"We advise those French nationals whose presence in Ivory Coast is not essential to leave the country," said French foreign ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau.

PEACE DEAL
President Laurent Gbagbo
President Gbagbo remains in power
Coalition interim government named
Non-partisan prime minister appointed
Government prepares fresh elections

French security forces, later helped by their Ivorian colleagues, cleared the demonstrators from the runway but they then reassembled outside the airport entrance.

French tanks stopped them from re-entering the terminal building.

A plane from French company Air Liberte finally took off around 1200 local time (1100 GMT).

Ivorian Defence Minister Bertin Kadet went to the airport to calm the protesters and he said the French action had inflamed the situation.

"I spoke to the French troops, I asked them to leave the area to avoid further demonstrations," he said.

"I think there are situations which we can avoid by working together."

Fears of war

Some 2,500 French troops are monitoring a ceasefire line across the middle of the country.

They were originally sent to protect French and other western nationals in Ivory Coast.

Protesters burning the French flag
Government supporters accuse the French of backing the rebels

Some observers fear that if the French troops are switched to evacuate their nationals, Ivory Coast will return to full-scale war.

After the deal was signed last weekend, Mr Gbagbo's supporters staged four days of anti-French protests.

Rebels say they have been promised the defence and interior ministries but this does not appear in the official text.

The army has said it will refuse to serve under a rebel defence minister.

Nation divided

Mr Gbagbo has not yet delivered his address to the nation, in which he has promised to explain why he agreed to the controversial deal.

The BBC's Tom McKinley in Abidjan says that without the support of the army and the main Ivory Coast political parties, the president has little choice but to break his promise and reject the plan for reconciliation.

He says his only chance of carrying it though would be if the rebels dropped their demand for the defence and interior ministries.

The conflict has split the world's largest cocoa producer along ethnic and religious lines.

The rebels control the largely Muslim north, while the mainly Christian south, including Abidjan, remains in government hands.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom McKinley
"A tense stand-off"

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