French defence minister spells out Ivory Coast position

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French Defence Minister Alain Juppe backed Thursday tightening EU sanctions against holdout Ivory Coast president and said French forces in the west African country would help UN troops if asked.

"I think that is the position of the European Union and the international community," Juppe said after talks with the EU's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, on pan-European defence issues.

"Mr Gbagbo must go and a strengthening of financial sanctions would tend to bring about a change," he said.

The 900 troops wearing the French tricolour in Ivory Coast are only there "to protect our nationals and get them out."

Juppe admitted they were also there to protect United Nations forces, who have faced tense moments in the stand-off between Gbagbo loyalists and backers of presidential election winner Alassane Ouattara.

But "we will only take military initiatives upon request by the Security Council... There will be no French military initiative," he said.

The EU has so far frozen assets for almost 90 people and companies close to Gbagbo, and added the governor of the central bank for west African states sharing the same currency as well as its leading Ivory Coast official.

© 2011 AFP

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