Anti-French riots in Ivory Coast, violence escalates

7th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 7 (AFP) - France was in danger of being sucked into the escalating conflict in its former colony Ivory Coast on Sunday, after President Jacques Chirac's order to destroy the Ivorian air force prompted anti-French riots in the main city Abidjan.

PARIS, Nov 7 (AFP) - France was in danger of being sucked into the escalating conflict in its former colony Ivory Coast on Sunday, after President Jacques Chirac's order to destroy the Ivorian air force prompted anti-French riots in the main city Abidjan.

The government in Paris sent in extra reinforcements of 300 troops and 60 paramilitary gendarmes to head off the growing threat to French interests and civilians. An initial detachment of 300 men arrived Sunday from Gabon to boost the 4,600 French peacekeepers already present.

French troops began deploying in Abidjan "for the benefit of French and foreign residents as well as the Ivorian population," the defence ministry said, prompting an angry response from the government of President Laurent Gbagbo which demanded an immediate withdrawal.

The intervention provoked a stark warning from the speaker of the Ivorian parliament Mamadou Coulibaly, a Gbagbo loyalist, who said France faced a "long, hard war" and that French nationals risked death at the hands of the "patriot" mob.

"Vietnam will be nothing compared with what we are going to do here," he said. "The Ivorian authorities consider themselves now to be rebels against the French power which Jacques Chirac is trying to install. There will be fierce resistance."

Overnight thousands of protesters loyal to Gbagbo marched on the airport in Abidjan, which is under the control of French forces, and were turned back by rocket fire from French helicopters.

There were widespread reports of looting and burning of French property, including four schools and the residence of French gendarmes in Abidjan. Anti-French demonstrations were also reported in the administrative capital Yamoussoukro.

There are estimated to be between 10,000 and 11,000 French nationals in Ivory Coast, most of them carrying joint citizenship.

French ministers said they held Gbagbo personally responsible for controlling the mob.

"We appeal on all the forces concerned, especially President Gbagbo, to act to stop the violence so that Ivory Coast can return to peace," said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

In the worst crisis to hit Franco-Ivorian relations since independence in 1960, events have led the government in Paris to abandon its policy of strict neutrality in the country's civil war and take decisive military action to curb Gbagbo's forces.

The intervention, which could dramatically change the balance of power in Ivory Coast, was prompted by an air raid by two government Russian-made Sukoi-25 jets early Saturday afternoon on a French encampment in the rebel-held town of Bouake.

The attack killed nine troops - France's biggest single loss in a foreign military operation since Beirut in 1983 - and wounded 22 others. An American civilian was also killed.

In an immediate riposte, Chirac ordered the destruction of the two jets on the ground at Yamoussoukro airport as well as at least three attack helicopters, effectively eliminating the Ivorian air force.

Chirac said the planes had been violating the country's ceasefire in raids on the rebel-held north.

Overnight Saturday the government in Paris secured the unanimous condemnation of the attacks by Gbgabo's forces at the UN Security Council which met in New York, and said it would push for tougher action including an arms embargo.

The Security Council is to meet again on the conflict Tuesday.

France helped secure the ceasefire deal known as the Marcoussis Accords which were signed near Paris in January 2002 with the aim of setting up a national unity government and ending the rebellion by anti-Gbagbo forces in the north and west of the country.

However the peace process has remained a dead letter, with the country divided in two along a line patrolled by 10,000 French and UN troops. A week ago the rebels, now known as the New Forces, declared a state of "maximum alert" and Gbagbo's air force launched a series of air raids.

Analysts said the spiralling violence left French forces and citizens dangerously exposed, as they are seen by Gbagbo loyalists as having taken the decision to side with the opposition - despite the fact that in rebel-held areas the same French forces are accused of helping the government.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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