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.