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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 15:59 GMT
Ivorian leader hits out at France
French citizens wait to depart to France at Abidjan airport
Frightened foreigners are leaving Ivory Coast in droves
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has accused France of supporting rebels in the renewed civil war.

He said the recent destruction of government warplanes by French forces showed Paris "objectively" favoured the insurgents, who hold half the country.

"The French destroyed our advantage in less than two hours," he told BBC News.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply after nine French peacekeepers died in a government bombing raid earlier this month.

The retaliatory destruction of most of the Ivory Coast's air force triggered attacks against French and other Western expatriates.

Thousands are being evacuated.

Laurent Gbagbo
The acts France committed against us are acts of war
Laurent Gbagbo
Ivory Coast president
West African leaders are meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss the crisis.

Supporters of the president have often spoken out against the former colonial power - which brokered a power sharing-deal in January 2003 - since the start of the conflict two years ago.

But Mr Gbagbo was particularly scathing in a BBC interview at the weekend.

He said the French had committed "acts of war" against his government, and had always favoured the rebels.

"At the start of the crisis I asked for two helicopters," he added. "If they had given them to me, the war would have been over in two days."

'Anarchy'

Mr Gbagbo said the French had consistently blocked attempts by his government to buy weapons.

PEACE UNRAVELS
29 Sept: Parliament fails to meet deadline for political reforms
15 Oct: Rebels ignore deadline for disarmament
28 Oct: Rebels withdraw from unity government
4 Nov: Government aircraft begin air strikes on rebel-held territory
6 Nov: Air strike kills nine French soldiers; France destroys Ivorian planes
7 Nov: Gbagbo supporters demonstrate against the French in Abidjan; UN condemns Ivorian attacks
8,9 Nov: Anti-French rioting
10 Nov: French begin evacuating civilians

France has 4,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, backing a UN force separating the rebel-held north from the government-controlled south.

Civil war was reignited 10 days ago, when the Ivorian armed forces broke a ceasefire by launching air attacks on the north.

Mr Gbagbo says the killing of French peacekeepers in a bombing raid was a mistake, but the French government says it was deliberate.

The Ivorian leader has vowed to rebuild his air force.

French President Jacques Chirac on Sunday lashed out at the Ivorian leadership, calling it a "questionable regime".

"We do not want to allow a system to develop that would only lead to anarchy or a regime of a fascist nature," Mr Chirac.

He said France was "fulfilling its responsibilities" in Ivory Coast, backed by the UN and "all African countries".

Mediation effort

One of the leaders attending the Abuja meeting, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, warned that Ivory Coast could be engulfed in chaos if French troops were to leave.

Map of Ivory Coast

He said French troops should stay in the country until elections.

The African Union-sponsored summit also brings together the leaders of Nigeria, Gabon, Togo, Burkina Faso and Ghana .

Neither Mr Gbagbo nor South African President Thabo Mbeki - who has been trying to mediate a solution - is attending.

Mr Gbagbo has sent to Abuja a delegation led by the head of the national assembly, Mamadou Koulibaly - who is widely regarded as a hardliner.

On Saturday the Ivorian president sacked the head of the armed forces and replaced him with Colonel Philippe Mangou - who led the latest offensive in the north.


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