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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 20:50 GMT
France 're-imposing' Ivorian calm
French forces outside Abidjan's Hotel Ivoire
France insisted it had no plans to oust Laurent Gbagbo
Ivorian and French forces have pledged to work together to re-impose order after days of violence in the country.

A French general denied plans to oust President Laurent Gbagbo after hundreds of people confronted French forces at the president's residence.

French soldiers fired in the air to disperse the protesters.

French troops deployed across Abidjan and took its airport during a weekend of anti-French riots. More than 410 people were hurt, the Red Cross said.

"It is absolutely not the intention of the French forces to overthrow President Gbagbo," insisted General Henri Poncet after meeting UN and Ivorian army commanders.

The situation is far from calm. There is a crisis underway
Kim Gordon-Bates
Red Cross worker

The BBC's James Copnall in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city, says the relationship between the French and Ivorian armed forces had looked in tatters after Ivorian planes killed nine French troops and the French responded by destroying the entire Ivorian air force.

The incidents sparked the wave of anti-French violence over the weekend that continued into Monday.

As rumours spread of a French-backed coup, protesters responded to a call on state radio for people to form a "human shield" to protect the president, descending on Abidjan's Hotel Ivoire.

Presidential spokesmen said France had 50 tanks outside the nearby president's residence, and called on them to withdraw.

French President Jacques Chirac urged national reconciliation saying "France is a friend" of the West African country.

The atmosphere remains tense. Kim Gordon-Bates, a Red Cross worker, spoke to the BBC by phone as protesters surrounded him.

"The situation is far from calm. There is a crisis underway. There has been looting, there has been elements of violence," he said.

At the weekend, tens of thousands of President Gbagbo's supporters march on the French-held main airport in Abidjan.

They also went on the rampage across the city, attacking French targets including setting fire to a French school and bookshop.

Asked how many people were killed in the violence, Mr Gordon-Bates of the Red Cross replied: "God knows."

PEACE UNRAVELS
Protesters descend on Abidjan's Hotel Ivoire
29 Sept: Parliament fails to meet deadline for political reforms promised to rebels
15 Oct: Rebels ignore deadline for disarmament
28 Oct: Rebels withdraw ministers from unity government
4 Nov: Government aircraft begin daily air strikes on rebel-held territory in north
6 Nov: An air strike leaves nine French soldiers dead; France responds by destroying Ivorian planes
7 Nov: Thousands of Gbagbo supporters demonstrate against the French in Abidjan; UN condemns Ivorian attacks

A French army spokesman told Reuters that French civilians had been rescued from rooftops by helicopters during Sunday night.

The bodies of the dead French soldiers, and their injured colleagues, were flown back home on Monday.

But Ms Alliot-Marie said there were no plans to evacuate the estimated 14,000 French citizens in Ivory Coast.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been asked by the African Union to help find a political solution to the crisis.

He is now expected to go to Ivory Coast on Tuesday for emergency talks.

In a televised speech on Sunday, President Gbagbo called for restraint.

It was his first public speech since ordering bombing raids on Thursday that ended the uneasy ceasefire.

On Monday, the former rebels called for the departure of President Gbagbo to restore "calm" to the country.

France dispatched 600 more troops to back up the 4,000 soldiers it already has in Ivory Coast as part of a UN force of 10,000.

Paris has also drafted a resolution to go before the UN Security Council calling for an arms embargo, a travel ban on key figures accused of derailing the peace process and a freeze on their overseas assets.


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