On Saturday youths chanted anti-French slogans and looted and torched four French schools.

Thousands of President Laurent Gbagbo supporters were reported marching on Abidjan airport, where a company of French infantry was stationed.

Earlier an hour of fighting had broken out between French and Ivorian troops at the airport.

Ivorian forces closed the airport on Saturday afternoon and evacuated staff, sealing off the perimeter and closing it to air traffic, airport sources said.

French officials ordered its military to wipe out Ivory Coast's military aircraft in retaliation for the killing of nine of its soldiers and wounding of 23.

Former colony

The former French colony has had French troops stationed there since 2002 following the break out of a civil war.

A demonstrator throws stones
at the French embassy in Abidjan

Late on Saturday French forces destroyed two Ivorian Sukhoi fighter-bombers, two MI-24 attack helicopters and an MI-8 transport helicopter, military staff said.

France also ordered 300 more troops to Ivory Coast in addition to its 4000-member peacekeeping force.

It also scrambled three Mirage fighter jets from Chad to Libreville in Gabon.

UN demands

Meanwhile the UN Security Council demanded an immediate halt to all military action in Ivory Coast but said that French forces were authorised to use all necessary means to carry out their mandate.

At an emergency meeting, the council authorised UN and French troops patrolling a zone dividing the rebel-held north from the government-controlled south "to prevent any hostile action," and condemned any attempt by either side to send forces through the zone.

The council said it "intends to examine rapidly further actions, including individual measures, to be taken."

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, has been split since a September 2002 coup attempt launched the country into civil war. A peace deal was forged last year under pressure from former colonial ruler France and others.