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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November 2004, 08:16 GMT
Anti-French uproar in Ivory Coast
Librarie de France bookstore in Abidjan's chic Cocody quarter burns
French property in Abidjan was targeted by protesters
Angry anti-French demonstrators have marched on the airport in Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, after French troops seized control of it.

French helicopters fired warning shots to try to stop the tens of thousands of government loyalists moving forward.

The furious reaction was sparked by the destruction of five Ivorian armed forces aircraft by the French military.

France had responded to an earlier Ivorian air attack on a rebel town that left nine French peacekeepers dead.

Paris has said it is sending more troops and aircraft to the region to stop the escalating violence.

The UN Security Council moved swiftly to back the French action, and called on all sides to stop the fighting.


Correspondents in Abidjan - Ivory Coast's economic capital in the south of the country - spoke of hearing loud explosions and heavy gunfire.

Red tracer bullets streaked across the night sky, Reuters news agency reported.

What is happening now is very serious in Ivory Coast and I hope that the council in the coming days will be able to adopt a resolution
Jean-Marc de la Sabliere
French ambassador to UN

The BBC's James Copnall said a helicopter flew low over a bridge that splits the city, and fired warning shots as thousands of young men were trying to cross over.

The protesters were responding to a call by groups loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo to retake the airport, which had been in French hands for some hours.

They are reported to have turned back at about 0400 (0400 GMT).

Some ransacked homes of Europeans in the Bietry district of the city as they dispersed, French news agency AFP said.

Earlier, at least two French schools and a library were set alight and French property looted.

Rioters were seen brandishing axes, machetes and clubs as they roamed the streets shouting "French go home!" and "Everybody get your Frenchman!"

Explosions and heavy gunfire were also reportedly heard in the capital Yamoussoukro on Saturday evening.

President Gbagbo has appealed through a spokesman for an end to attacks on French interests pending an investigation into Saturday's events.

A government spokesman called the air raid in which the French soldiers died a mistake.

Meanwhile, Paris has dispatched an extra two companies of troops to beef up a force of 4,000 already deployed since the end of the civil war last year.

It has also redeployed three jet fighters to the region.

President Jacques Chirac ordered the "immediate destruction of Ivorian military aircraft used in recent days in violation of the ceasefire".

French forces earlier destroyed two Ivorian bombers at an airbase in Yamoussoukro, along with two Russian-built Sukhoi 25 and three Mi-24 helicopters.

In a telephone call to President Laurent Gbagbo, France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said a political solution must be found, and stressed that "violence leads to nothing," a ministry statement said.

'Legitimate defence'

The BBC's world affairs correspondent, Mark Doyle, says this is the most serious crisis between France and its former colony since independence in 1960.

Ivory Coast was for many years a tolerant melting pot of religions and ethnic groups, but a coup in 1999 followed by civil war ended all of that with a vengeance, our correspondent says.

French peacekeepers in Ivory Coast
29 Sept: Ivorian parliament fails to agree citizenship laws, which were a key requirement of the January 2003 peace deal
13 Oct: Ivorian rebels say they will not disarm, as planned, until immigration laws are changed
28 Oct: Vendors selling newspapers accused of supporting the opposition are attacked by pro-government militants in Abidjan and southern towns
The New Forces order eight rebel ministers to return to the rebel-held north, saying it had discovered the government smuggling arms across its territory
4 Nov: Government launches air strikes on rebel-held territory in north
5 Nov: More government air strikes and clashes on the ground in north, as unrest erupts in Abidjan
6 Nov: French forces destroy two government warplanes after an air strike leaves French soldiers dead

At least one Ivorian Sukhoi 25 bomber attacked a position of France's Unicorn peacekeeping force in the rebel stronghold of Bouake on Saturday.

Eight French soldiers were killed immediately along with an American, believed to have been a missionary, while 23 soldiers were injured and evacuated to Abidjan. A ninth soldier later died of his wounds.

Just over an hour later, French forces launched an attack on the aircraft on the ground at Yamoussoukro.

Without giving details of the airport attack, the defence ministry said the army had "responded in a situation of legitimate defence" and was seeking "the immediate end of combat".

Three days of air raids by government planes on rebel areas in the north of the country have broken a truce that had held since July last year.

Tensions reached boiling point after deadlines for reforms and disarmament designed to lead to peace were missed.

The African Union has urged both the government and rebels to refrain from any further violations of the truce they signed.


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