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Ivory Coast Mob Goes After Fleeing French

February 01, 2003|From Associated Press

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A 5,000-strong stone-throwing mob invaded Ivory Coast's main airport Friday, storming planes on the tarmac and taunting, slapping and spitting at terrorized French families in flight from their nation's former colony.

"Never come back!" one band of young men shouted, striking and spewing profanities at a woman and three children who ran sobbing from parking lot to terminal.

French forces in armored vehicles with cannons took up positions on and around the runway, backed by helicopters. At one point, the French troops briefly squared off against Ivory Coast forces.

The allies' armed standoff started when a line of 100 French troops trained their firearms on rioters, trying to stop them from hurling stones onto them over the heads of Ivorian solders. No shots were fired.

Two French soldiers were injured, one seriously, by rocks thrown by protesters, said a French military spokesman, Lt. Col. Philippe Perret.

France has 2,500 troops in Ivory Coast to protect more than 16,000 French civilians.

Often-violent protests over a French-brokered deal to end Ivory Coast's 4-month-old civil war have persisted in recent days.

Government loyalists -- including the protesters at the airport -- say the agreement gives too much to rebels who control half the country.

The Jan. 24 peace accord puts the rebels and the government into a power-sharing administration until elections in 2005. Loyalists have objected most strongly to unconfirmed rebel claims that the deal gives the rebels control of the country's military.

Rebel groups in the north and west accuse President Laurent Gbagbo of fanning ethnic hatred and demand his resignation.

In Dakar, Senegal, West African leaders trying to salvage a country once seen as a model of stability and prosperity agreed to send a seven-member delegation today to meet with Gbagbo in Abidjan.

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