Gbagbo on Saturday replaced his army chief of staff with Colonel Philippe Mangou, a hardliner who commanded an assault on the rebel-held north last week.

"Mangou was managing the attack. He's the one who made war," a senior Ivorian military source said. He said the heads of the air force and infantry had also been replaced.

The bombing raids on the north, seized by rebel soldiers in 2002 after a failed coup attempt, triggered more than a week of unrest in Ivory Coast after nine French peacekeepers were killed in a raid on a French base.

France responded by crippling Ivory Coast's air force, unleashing violent street protests against the French.

West African leaders from countries including Gabon, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Libya and Senegal are due to meet in Nigeria on Sunday for emergency talks about the crisis.

Exodus continues

The exodus of foreigners, fleeing the violence in Ivory Coast, is meanwhile continuing.

More French citizens arrived at a French military base by car in the main city of Abidjan, clutching bags, dogs and cats, with 780 people boarding flights to Paris.

"I have lived here for seven years and I have never seen such hate. People have been terrorised," Christian Berche, a retired doctor, said.

Nearly 5000 Europeans have been evacuated since Wednesday.