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Robbery Sets Off Ivory Coast Street Battle That Kills 23

September 28, 2003|From Associated Press

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast — French and West African peacekeepers rushed in Saturday to try to impose order after a bank robbery sparked an all-night street battle that killed 23 people in this Ivory Coast rebel stronghold.

Heavy gunfire was heard around the bank for hours before dawn Saturday, as fighting continued and civilians reportedly tried to grab money after the robbery. At dawn, about 100 heavily armed peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers cordoned off the neighborhood around the bank.

Rebel spokesman Antoine Beugre blamed the bank break-in on "armed bandits from the region." He said gunmen managed to grab cash from registers Friday night but didn't reach the bank's vault.

Beugre said many of the dead were civilians who had tried to make off with cash in the chaos.

Rebel authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew Saturday and streets were largely calm.

About 4,000 French troops are patrolling their former colony, guarding front lines to keep apart rebels controlling the north and government forces in the south.

The unrest occurred amid a breakdown in the peace process. Rebels last week bolted a power-sharing government arranged under a pact, saying President Laurent Gbagbo has not properly consulted their ministers.

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