“Critical but under control” – That is how France’s Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has described the situation in Ivory Coast, after an explosion of mob violence. Sticking together for their own safety, French citizens have been targeted by gangs of youths in a rampage of rioting and looting. Paris has responded by dispatching military and medical reinforcements to its ex-colony. Tension remains high but there are no immediate plans to evacuate any of the 15,000 French nationals from the West African country.
Ivory Coast’s leader Laurent Gbagbo appeared on state television to call for an end to the violence. But his supporters are responsible for whipping-up anti-French anger. The chaos began when Ivory Coast warplanes launched a surprise airstrike that killed nine French peacekeepers and a civilian US aid worker at a French base in the rebel stronghold of Bouaké on Saturday.
The bombardment was later described as a mistake. France hit back within hours, wiping out most of the African nation’s small air force. A civil war has left Ivory Coast split in two. Rebels control the north while the president’s forces are in power in the south. Paris has thousands of soldiers in the Ivory Coast to support a UN peacekeeping force policing a ceasefire line between the rebels and government troops.