Clashes in I. Coast capital ahead of Africa bank meet

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Clashes erupted in Ivory Coast's Abidjan Monday as authorities tried to clear out a volatile anti-French area in the heart of the business district ahead of an African Development Bank summit.

Around 100 occupants of the area known as the Sorbonne hurled stones at municipal police in hours of clashes that were only put down when national police arrived, an AFP reporter said.

Both sides said they had suffered injuries in the skirmishes, which come ahead of the May 27-28 African Development Bank annual meeting expected to draw heads of government and other senior officials from across the continent and beyond.

The "Sorbonnards" support the government of President Laurent Gbagbo in the divided country, while the mayor of the city's Plateau quarter which includes the Sorbonne backs the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast.

"We decided on a 'clearing out' operation of the Sorbonne to spruce up our community" before Thursday's opening of the African Development Bank (AfDB) meetings, said Plateau mayor Akossi Bendjo.

"We waited in vain for the police, after a municipal order was issued for their support so that the operation could take place as peacefully as possible," he said.

The area "had become a jungle", Bendjo said, vowing to "continue this action until the Sorbonne is rid of its illegal occupants."

The Sorbonne, named after the prestigious Paris university, is one of the most famous gathering places in the city for activists, including "Young Patriots", who back Gbagbo and rally against influence of the former colonial power, France.

It is not far from the offices of the president and prime minister and includes several popular restaurants and shops, including those selling pirated CDs and DVDs.

Clement Nadaud, known as the "president of the Sorbonne", accused the city's elders of "trying to provoke the Sorbonnards so that they will disrupt the AfDB meeting."

"We are defending our livelihood," he said.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, has been divided since a foiled coup against Gbagbo in September 2002.

The former rebel New Forces, headed by Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, holds most of the northern half of the country while the south is largely in the hands of supporters of Gbagbo's Ivorian Patriotic Front.

© 2010 AFP

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