Ivorian president appeals for order

Hundreds of demonstrators have faced off with French troops in Abidjan after state radio urged protesters to form a human shield to protect the house of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.

    France has blamed Gbagbo for escalating the conflict

    The leader of the world's biggest cocoa producer, Gbagbo appealed

    for an end to the anti-French violence which erupted

    on Monday after France destroyed most of the country's air force in

    retaliation for the killing of nine French peacekeepers.

    The price of cocoa for December delivery rose sharply in

    London on Monday by up to 11% because of the unrest in

    Ivory Coast.

    An employee at Abidjan's upmarket Hotel Ivoire said

    protesters were massing in front of French armoured vehicles in

    the car park of the hotel which is about 1km from

    Gbagbo's home, and also at the nearby television station.

    "The young patriots are asked to go en masse and form a

    shield around the residence of the head of state so that if the

    intention of the French soldiers is to head towards the

    residence, they will block them," state radio said.

    A French army source confirmed that French military vehicles

    were in the car park of the hotel and said they were there to

    "secure the zone".

    French troops deployed

    A French convoy of at least 30 vehicles was

    seen heading towards the hotel early in the morning.

    French property was set ablaze
    during the riots

    The French military source said the French troops might

    later secure Gbagbo's residence.

    He said they would make a

    "significant declaration" in the afternoon.

    France deployed troops on the streets of the main commercial city,

    Abidjan, on Sunday, took control of the airport and flew in

    hundreds of extra soldiers to contain the backlash of looting

    and rioting in major towns across Ivory Coast.

    French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Monday

    that calm appeared to be returning to the West African country

    and no evacuation of French citizens was planned, although she

    said the situation remained "extremely fragile".

    Under heavy international pressure to end the unrest, Gbagbo

    - whose West African country is divided in half with rebels

    holding the north - made his first public appearance since the

    crisis began by going on state television on Sunday night.

    "I am calling on people to remain calm. I am asking all the

    demonstrators to return home. You must not give in to

    provocation," Gbagbo said after days of fiery rhetoric from

    supporters had whipped up anti-French anger.

    Gunfire

    French and United Nations peacekeeping officials said

    Abidjan was generally calm on Sunday night, but groups of youths

    were still out looting in the affluent Cocody district.

    Ivorian anger was stoked after
    France destroyed the air force

    For a second night, French helicopters plucked frightened

    French nationals and other foreigners from the rooftops of

    houses and hotels, army spokesman Henry Aussavy said.

    Sporadic

    bursts of gunfire could be heard in the city.

    Ivorian officials initially maintained they had no evidence

    their military had struck the French peacekeepers in an air raid

    on the rebel-held town of Bouake on Saturday.

    But on Sunday the

    army acknowledged responsibility. It said it had not meant to

    target the French and appealed for calm.

    On President Jacques Chirac's orders, the French military

    retaliated by blowing up two Ivorian Sukhoi 25 fighters and five

    helicopters in Abidjan and the capital Yamoussoukro.

    Foreigners attacked

    Groups of Ivorians then attacked numerous

    foreigners and foreign-owned businesses in Abidjan, prompting

    French troops to stage dramatic airborne rescues to evacuate

    residents under siege in their apartment blocks.

    President Chirac ordered the
    destruction of the Ivorian fleet

    The UN Security Council, the African Union and the

    European Union issued urgent appeals for an end to the violence,

    which also threatens stability in West Africa where other states

    have been plagued by conflicts in the past decade or so.

    France has begun negotiations on a Security Council resolution

    to impose an arms embargo and other sanctions.

    South African President Thabo Mbeki will visit Ivory Coast

    on Tuesday to mediate in the crisis, Ivorian state TV said.

    France has about 4000 soldiers based in Ivory Coast to

    support 6000 UN peacekeepers policing a ceasefire line

    between rebels and government troops.

    France is sending at least

    600 more soldiers to bolster its force.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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