Chanting, "We want the French!" a crowd of armed and angry young men swept past La Planta, a club owned by an Ivorian. They started to attack the nearby Byblos restaurant, then stopped when the owner pleaded, "No, no! I'm Lebanese!"
But when it came to Club Le Saint Germain, the mob showed no restraint. The elegant eatery had not only a French owner but also a predominantly French clientele, including soldiers from the nearby military base.
Last Saturday night, witnesses said, men armed with wood planks, iron rail spikes and a lust for revenge battered down the club's steel doors. They yanked bars from the windows and bashed a gaping hole through the concrete wall.
As the owner and a friend watched from an adjacent roof, the mob stole everything that could be taken and destroyed what remained, witnesses said. The posh establishment was reduced to little more than a dirt-streaked shell.
Across this shaken West African city, the pattern of selective destruction was evident Friday after two days of relative calm. Burned and battered buildings stood beside others that had been virtually untouched, with targets apparently singled out because they were identified with France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler.
The centuries-old relationship, which had enjoyed an extended period of calm after independence in 1960, became increasingly frayed after the current Ivorian government took power four years ago and subsequent political unrest persisted.
In recent weeks, growing tensions between President Laurent Gbagbo's camp and French peacekeeping troops finally erupted in five days of street violence, beginning when an Ivorian airstrike last Saturday killed nine French troops and a U.N. aid worker, and a retaliatory French attack wiped out several Ivorian warplanes and helicopters.
Ivorians disagree about whether to blame Gbagbo, the activists known as Young Patriots who have become the enforcers of his political will, or the French themselves, who often seemed to have everything that Ivorians did not: wealth, education, lavish homes and fancy cars.
But as hundreds of French nationals have continued to flee each day in an air evacuation to Paris, many Ivorians agree that, in the end, it is they who will suffer most from this bitter turn of events. Every one of the 38 employees at Club Le Saint Germain, for example, was Ivorian. Now, all are out of work.
"For one white person, 38 people had jobs," said Kone Ibrahim Dotoulougo, 31, a doorman at the club, referring to the French owner.
Trouble first broke out Nov. 4, when Gbagbo broke a longtime cease-fire by attacking rebels who control the largely Muslim areas in the northern half of Ivory Coast. That same day, a mob of young men arrived in two city buses at the offices of the Patriote, an opposition newspaper, said employees there.
While more than a dozen journalists scrambled to safety over an exterior wall, the frenzied crowd rammed through a padlocked steel door, overturned furniture, battered the printing press and set the building on fire. The paper has not published since.
"We are sure if they had caught some of us, we would have been killed," said Toure Moussa, the editor. He said the men who attacked his paper and two others were from the Young Patriots and acting on government orders.
"It's to make us mute, to make all opposition voices mute," Moussa said.
The Young Patriots leader, Charles Ble Goude, has insisted that the movement is nonviolent.
Two days after these attacks, the Ivorian warplane bombarded the French peacekeepers, according to French officials, and France responded by destroying Ivory Coast's tiny air force and seizing the international airport in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital.
That night, tensions boiled over. Reportedly at the urging of Ble Goude and others, the Young Patriots took to the streets. Violent clashes with the French military erupted through the weekend, and riots and looting continued for several days. An estimated 4,000 prison inmates also escaped.
Most of the damage occurred the first night, especially in sections with concentrations of French people, residents said.
Tens of thousands of French nationals once lived and worked in this country of 16 million, and Abidjan was regarded as one of Africa's most stable and prosperous cities. But after years of rising unrest, that number has dwindled to 15,000 or less. At least 2,000 have left in the past week.
Sylviane Aka, 43, was returning from a wedding last Saturday in the largely French area known as Zone 4. She described seeing mobs of young men marching down the street, wielding planks and knives and shouting, "We want white French to eat!"
As an Ivorian, Aka said she did not feel endangered, but with news of the French counterattack spreading rapidly, she sympathized with the urge for revenge.
"To French people, in their minds Ivorians are like monkeys in the trees," Aka said. "They have everything here . . . but it is from our raw materials that they get everything."
In other cases, Ivorians said, the mobs did not discriminate in choosing their targets. In one part of Zone 4, gangs destroyed and looted a pharmacy, a craft store, a lingerie shop, a hair salon, a computer center and a French restaurant. Several were owned by Ivorians.
Fatoumata Fondio, 54, said she heard the gangs moving through the neighborhood but didn't think her computer and business service was in danger. On Sunday, she learned that the uninsured business had been attacked. When she arrived to survey the damage, she said, she collapsed in tears. All that was left were a handful of documents and a pair of mouse pads.
Fondio, who said she had visited France twice, blamed the Young Patriots for the destruction. "We live with the French people," she said. "We used to live together."