washingtonpost.com  > World > Africa > West Africa > Ctte d'Ivoire

Seven Killed by Gunfire at Protest in Ivory Coast

French Military Denies Responsibility in Incident

By Parfait Kouassi
Associated Press
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; Page A22

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Nov. 9 -- Security forces opened fire Tuesday as thousands of angry government loyalists massed outside a French evacuation post for foreigners. Seven people were reported killed and 200 wounded in the incident as violence continued to pit France against its former prize colony.

Denying any responsibility, France's military said that loyalist demonstrators opened fire as a French convoy left the post and that Ivorian security forces returned fire.

Protesters wait to be treated at a hospital in the Ivorian city of Abidjan after being fired on by security officers at a French evacuation post. (Schalk Van Zuydam -- AP)

_____Mbeki Peace Mission_____
Video: South African President Thabo Mbeki flew to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to launch an African effort to rein in four days of violence that have killed at least 20 people.

The bloodletting erupted at a former luxury hotel that French forces have commandeered as an evacuation center for 1,300 French nationals and other foreigners who were saved from rampages across the country's commercial capital.

The chaos in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer and West Africa's former economic powerhouse, broke out Saturday when Ivory Coast warplanes killed nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker in a strike on the rebel-held north.

France, in turn, wiped out the national air force as it sat on the tarmac, sparking anti-French rioting by thousands in the fiercely nationalist south.

The French set up their evacuation center Monday a few hundred yards from the home of President Laurent Gbagbo, and the site has become a flashpoint for violence.

French forces opened fire Tuesday as thousands pressed around the center in protest, witnesses said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, sent here by the 53-nation African Union to find a political solution to the crisis, said before Tuesday's shooting that Gbagbo had recommitted his government to carrying out tension-easing measures that were part of previous accords aimed at ending the country's two-year-old civil war.

The chaos has sent hundreds of people fleeing into neighboring Liberia, while Guinea, another neighbor, massed troops at its border for fear of further unrest, according to reports from the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

French leaders have said they hold Gbagbo -- installed by his supporters in 2000 after an aborted vote count in presidential elections -- responsible for Saturday's airstrike and subsequent anti-foreigner rampages.

Cocody Hospital in Abidjan received seven dead and more than 200 wounded, said Sie Podipte, the emergency room chief.

Four days of confrontations have killed at least 20 other people, wounded 700 and shut down cocoa exports.

On Tuesday, stunned protesters filled the hospital, and survivors lay out the bodies of some of the dead. A woman lay on the ground, screaming.

On Monday, Ivory Coast and French generals had called on protesters to go home after state radio and TV had urged them to mass at Gbagbo's home and at a nearby broadcast center.

U.N. Security Council diplomats weighed a French-backed draft resolution for an arms embargo of Ivory Coast and a travel ban and asset freeze of those blocking peace, violating human rights and preventing the disarmament of combatants. China was balking at the measures, diplomats said.

France has 4,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, where a civil war launched in September 2002 has left the country split between the rebel north and loyalist south. About 6,000 U.N. troops are deployed in a buffer zone.

Saturday's bombing came on the third day of Ivory Coast airstrikes on rebel positions, breaking a more than year-old cease-fire.

Violence also was reported in the central town of Gagnoa, with loyalists clashing with people of other tribes, leaving several dead and wounded, a city official said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company