Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Conflict in Ivory Coast explodes, 30 die

CONTINUING UNREST Ivorian officials said dozens of civilians were killed by French soldiers, while machete-wielding mobs hunted down French citizens and burned shops

AFP AND AP , PARIS AND ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

French troops killed more than 30 Ivory Coast nationals and wounded at least 100 others in the ongoing crisis in the west African country, Ivorian parliament speaker Mamadou Coulibaly said on French public radio France Inter Sunday.

"In [the main cities of] Abidjan and Yamassoukro the French army killed more than 30 people and wounded more than 100, people who were unarmed, to avenge the blood of nine dead French soldiers," Coulibaly said.

Nine French troops died in an air raid by Ivory Coast warplanes and 30 were wounded Saturday in the central Ivorian city of Bouake.

French reinforcements were expected in Ivory Coast after continuing unrest overnight.

Meanwhile, angry mobs of thousands laid siege to a French military base in Ivory Coast's largest city yesterday and went house-to-house in search of French families, answering hard-liners' call to take to the streets after deadly violence erupted between France's forces and those of its former colony.

French military helicopters dropped percussion grenades throughout the night on mobs massing at bridges, the international airport and the military base in the commercial capital, Abidjan, French military spokesman Henry Aussavy said.

France remained newly in control of the international airport after destroying what it said was the entire Ivorian Air Force -- two Sukhoi warplanes and five helicopter gunships -- Saturday.

Destruction came in retaliation for the Ivorian Air Force's surprise bombing of a French peacekeeping position in the north, held by Ivorian rebels since civil war broke out in the world's top cocoa producer in September 2002.

Saturday's airstrike killed nine French troops and one American civilian, believed by American diplomats to be a missionary.

France and the UN Security Council, meeting in emergency session, demanded President Laurent Gbagbo restore order.

Ivorian leaders sounded defiance yesterday.

National Assembly President Mamadou Coulibaly, No. 2 under Gbagbo, accused French President Jacques Chirac of arming Ivory Coast's rebels, telling France's Inter radio "we have the feeling and we have the proof" of it.

Accusing France of "connivance with the rebels," Coulibaly demanded French troops "liberate the territory and then go."

Hardliners urged loyalists on to more uprisings.

"We ask you all to take to the streets," Ble Goude, a so-called youth leader in control of thousands of loyalist militia members, declared on state TV.

"Show France we are a sovereign state," another loyalist hard-liner, Genevieve Bro Grebe, head of a women's militia, declared. Fearful of attempts to overthrow Gbagbo, Grebe on state TV urged crowds to form a ``human shield'' around his presidential palace.

Militia leaders also called on loyalists to march on the airport and the French military base.

Thousands of loyalists were demonstrating in front of the military base at daybreak yesterday, Aussavy said.

Enraged at the French retaliation for the airstrike, mobs went door-to-door looking for foreign families, and looted and burned French businesses and at least two French schools.

"We are all terrified, and try to reassure each other," one French resident said by telephone from his home, speaking on condition he not be identified.

"We have been told by the embassy to stay at home ... It is a difficult situation to live through," the Frenchman said.

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