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I Coast crowd attacks French army base

ABIDJAN, Dec 1 (AFP) – Hundreds of youths staged a violent demonstration Monday outside a French military base in Abidjan following weekend clashes in central Ivory Coast between French peacekeepers and supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, witnesses said.

The protesters, who numbered between 300 and 400, started a fire outside the gate of the base of the 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion before French military police dispersed them with teargas.

French soldiers then put up barbed wire fencing outside the base, before the protesters returned, pelting the French military installation with stones and preventing any cars carrying Europeans from approaching the base, an AFP journalist said.

According to the French consulate, a Spanish national, whom the demonstrators mistook for a Frenchwoman, was “harassed” by the crowd. Ivorian security forces intervened briefly to try to disperse the demonstration, but then pulled back and stood watch on the sidelines.

The demonstration, which flouted a ban on public gatherings, came after a clash Saturday between Ivorian army soldiers and French troops monitoring a demilitarised zone that cuts through the middle of Ivory Coast, dividing the west African country into a northern, rebel-held area and the south, controlled by Gbagbo loyalists.

On Sunday, armed men wearing army uniforms interrupted Ivorian national television broadcasts to demand that French troops leave the demilitarised zone.

The Ivorian army soldiers who tried to cross the demilitarised line of control near the central town of M’Bahiakro, allegedly en route to the former rebels’ headquarters city of Bouake, were accompanied by between 100 and 200 “Young Patriots”, hardline backers of Gbagbo.

The Young Patriots were behind violent anti-French demonstrations in January after Gbagbo’s government signed a peace pact, brokered by former colonial power France, with rebels whose uprising in September 2002 had plunged Ivory Coast into civil war.


                                                                Subject: French news