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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 12:19 GMT
Eyewitness: Mobs rampage in Abidjan
By James Copnall
BBC correspondent in Abidjan

After 36 hours of turbulence, Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan is approaching calm again.

Librairie de France bookstore in Abidjan's chic Cocody quarter burns
French property in Abidjan was targeted by protesters
Long convoys of French tanks and armoured vehicles snaked down Abidjan's broad boulevards last night, as the French peacekeepers attempted to dissuade supporters of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from anti-French violence.

After the French destroyed the Ivorian air force in retaliation for an air raid that killed nine French peacekeepers, repeated broadcasts on national television urged Ivorians to take to the streets.

Tens of thousands of President Gbagbo's supporters heeded the call, flooding towards the international airport which had been seized by the French.

'Protestors killed'

French soldiers and helicopters fired shots designed to intimidate the marchers, some of whom were armed.

French gendarmes fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Abidjan.
The protesters have heeded televised calls to take to the streets
I saw red flashes zooming through the night sky, and loud explosions on one of the two bridges that join the two segments of Abidjan in half.

The wave of protestors ran in panic as helicopters fired on the bridge.

"They killed about 15 of our young men, and injured dozens," the head of the Nationaly Assembly, Mamadou Koulibaly, told the BBC.

The French have subsequently denied the claim.

French looted

Either way the frustrated youths turned their attention on other French targets throughout Abidjan.

A group of thugs came to our house... I have a young daughter of 17 and I was so scared of what they would do to her
French citizen in Abidjan

French businesses were destroyed, French schools burned, and the homes of European civilians attacked.

"A group of thugs came to our house," one French woman told the BBC.

"They took what they wanted. We were all terrified. I have a young daughter of 17 and I was so scared of what they would do to her."

The woman and her family were subsequently rescued by UN peacekeepers and taken to a safe location.

Airlifts

The French say that, in conjunction with the UN, they have pulled at least 100 people out of dangerous situations.

French helicopters airlifted Europeans from apartment blocks and the prestigious Hotel Ivoire.

French peacekeepers guard De Gaulle bridge in Abidjan after riots overnight
Abidjan is tense but under control after riots, say French officials
Impromptu road-blocks of burning tires were set up in many of Abidjan's broad boulevards, and in the plush residential district of Cocody, Gbagbo militants went door to door looking for whites.

"Everyone get his white!" crowds shouted along the Rue des Jardins in Cocody.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that many of the masses of young men swarming through the town were more interested in loot that brutality.

"The took my stuff but they didn't hurt me," said Marc, a Frenchman, who has been in Ivory Coast for eight years.

Troop movements

As Sunday progressed, the French military presence got bigger and bigger.

The southern half of Abidjan was quartered by French patrols, and in the night the tanks and armoured cars moved across the two bridges and into the north.

By the morning a precarious calm had taken hold of the city.

Street vendors started selling again, and guards sat lazily chatting in the early morning sun.

That does not mean the situation was completely back to normal however.

Ivorian radio repeatedly played a message demanding people to head to the Hotel Ivoire where many French tanks had been sighted.

Boatloads of people from the district of Yopougon responded to the call.

Yet with the military might at their disposal, it seems likely the French will quell this new show of popular force.




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