Ivory Coast has urged France to withdraw its armoured vehicles from its main city, Abidjan, to ease tension after an outbreak of anti-French violence. Trouble flared at the weekend after French troops destroyed most of the West African country’s air force in retaliation for the killing of nine French peacekeepers. Ivorian officials initially maintained they had no evidence their military had struck the French peacekeepers in an air raid on the rebel-held northern town of Bouake on Saturday.
French citizens have been targeted by gangs of youths in a rampage of rioting and looting. Paris says it is not planning to evacuate any of its 15,000 nationals, although it has described the situation as “extremely fragile”. Thousands of Ivorians have been protesting this morning in support of the Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who earlier appeared on state television to appeal for an end to the violence.
“I am calling on people to remain calm, I am asking all the demonstrators to return home. You must not give in to provocation,” he said.
The French President Jacques Chirac has responded by describing Ivory Coast as France’s ally and calling for national reconciliation. Nevertheless, it is thought French forces might try to secure Gbagbo’s residence. French and Ivorian military officials are expected to make a significant declaration later this afternoon.