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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 23:20 GMT
Deaths at Ivory Coast demo
French tank and Ivorian demonstrators at a rally in Abidjan
Anti-French feeling is rampant in Ivory Coast
Several people have died after shooting at an anti-French protest in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan.

Several witnesses told the BBC that French peacekeepers opened fire on a crowd of tens of thousands supporters of Ivorian government.

But France said the Ivorian armed forces fired on the demonstrators after they themselves were shot at.

It said the Ivorians were covering a French retreat from a hotel they had controversially been occupying.

Correspondents say the demonstrators feared the French troops intended to advance on Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's residence, less than a kilometre away.

France has said it has no intention of overthrowing him.

Earlier on Tuesday, South African President Thabo Mbeki said after talks with Mr Gbagbo that the Ivorian leader was committed to a peaceful solution in the divided country.

Mr Mbeki will now report back on the crisis to the African Union, which sent him on the mission.

Violence in Ivory Coast erupted at the weekend, after government planes attacked a French military base inside the rebel-held northern half of the country, killing nine French soldiers.

In retaliation, French troops virtually wiped out the small Ivorian air force, triggering a wave of anti-French violent protests.

The Red Cross estimates that four days of clashes have left at least 600 people injured in Abidjan.

'Provocations'

A hospital source said at least nine people were killed and many more were in a critical state, the BBC's James Copnall in Abidjan reports.

PEACE UNRAVELS
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

There were also unconfirmed reports that two Ivorian gendarmes were killed near the luxury Hotel Ivoire, our correspondent says.

The French Defence Ministry said in a statement that the Ivorian troops opened fire after being shot at by protesters.

"In response to the repeated provocations of the crowd, some of them armed, and in response to shots fired [by protesters], the Ivorian forces opened fire," the statement said.

An Ivorian army spokesman was not immediately available for comment, our correspondent says.

More than a year of strained peace came to an end last week when President Gbagbo ordered air attacks on the rebel-held north.

France sent 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.


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