Officials at the Charles de Gaulle airport on Wednesday said that the first plane carrying 270 passengers, including 100 children, was welcomed by the French junior foreign minister Renaud Muselier.

 

Two other planes are expected to fly out more evacuees from Ivory Coast during the night.

 

The evacuation came on a day when violent anti-French protesters massed for a fifth day in support of President Laurent Gbagbo.

 

"I don't have a job anymore or a house... They took the bath, the furniture and electrical wires, everything," Bruno Regis, a teacher from a French school that was razed, said on Wednesday.

   

The French army destroyed the
country's rudimentary air force

"The way it ended here, I wouldn't come back here even if they offered me a new job," he said at the airport, where he was waiting for a flight with his wife and three small children.

   

More than 2000 French and foreign nationals have been sheltering in French and UN bases in the main city of Abidjan, chased from their homes by anti-French mobs.

 

At least 30 demonstrators have been killed and about 1000 injured since Saturday.

 

Evacuation 

   

An Air France plane landed just before 11am (1100 GMT) on Wednesday.

 

People queuing in the hall clutched the few belongings they had saved. Some rested on military stretchers, women tended to their babies and children played with luggage trolleys.

   

Crowd violence exploded on Saturday when the French army destroyed most of the West African country's small air force after an Ivorian jet bombed a French base, killing nine French peacekeepers and a US aid worker.

 

Simmering tensions

   

"I wouldn't come back here even if they offered me a new job"

Bruno Regis,
French school teacher

The air strike was part of an offensive launched by Gbagbo's forces to dislodge rebels who seized the north of the world's top cocoa grower in 2002 after failing to topple the president.

   

The riots have blocked cocoa exports, vital for a country which grows more than 40% of the world's cocoa beans, and inflamed simmering ethnic tensions in a major cocoa town.

   

French President Chirac said on Wednesday that Ivory Coast's authorities had to take responsibility for restoring order.

   

A French foreign ministry spokeswoman said four planes with around 1000 seats were due to leave Abidjan on Wednesday, but it was not clear how many people would be evacuated.

   

There are more than 10,000 French citizens in Ivory Coast, although many of them have dual nationality.