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Mbeki leads drive for peace in Ivory Coast

Mbeki leads drive for peace in Ivory Coast
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An easy calm has returned to Ivory Coast after days of mob violence. Rioting and looting targeting French nationals have left some 700 people injured and homes and businesses gutted. Residents in the West African country’s main city, Abidjan, say the main bridges are open again and people have started to venture out to see if an apparent lull in the violence will hold. It comes after Ivorian, French and UN forces met last night and pledged to work together to restore order.

But while top officials have called for an end to the unrest, state media has continued to broadcast anti-French rhetoric by leaders accusing French President Jacques Chirac of trying to topple his Ivorian counterpart, Laurent Gbagbo.

However France insists its mission is simply to protect its citizens and help re-establish dialogue between rebels and the government, which broke an 18-month ceasefire last week. The government’s bombing raid on a rebel stronghold in the north left nine French peacekeepers dead. In retaliation, France destroyed most of Ivory Coast’s airforce.

Since then, French troops have carried out helicopter rescue missions to pluck some two thousand foreigners from besieged buildings. South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki is now in the country to lead African Union efforts to defuse the crisis.