- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

Ivory Coast, once an oasis of stability in coup-ridden West Africa, stood at the brink of renewed civil war yesterday as French armored vehicles surrounded President Laurent Gbagbo’s home and struggled to curb anti-French rioting in the streets of Abidjan.

Rebels based in the north demanded the president’s resignation, while thousands of Gbagbo supporters marched to the president’s home to defend him. The French denied they intended to oust the president.

Protesters chanted against the French, yelling, “The whites don’t like the blacks, but we don’t care.” Some signs declared, “Ivory Coast is a sovereign state.”

France has about 4,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, while the United Nations contributes a 6,000-member contingent.

From their base in Bouake, rebels who have already created a de facto division of the country since 2002 demanded Mr. Gbagbo’s resignation “to secure stability” and the honoring of recent agreements to open up the political process and resolve issues of land ownership.

The crisis was brought to a head Saturday when government planes struck at northern targets in an attempt to end the rebellion by force, in effect tearing up a cease-fire negotiated last year. In the process, nine French peacekeepers and a U.S. civilian were killed.

French warplanes immediately struck back, destroying two planes based in the capital, Yamoussoukro.

The weekend of unrest by machete-waving mobs confronting French troops has left more than 500 people wounded, a Red Cross official said. Two Abidjan hospitals told the Associated Press they handled a total of five dead and 250 wounded in yesterday’s violence alone, with at least three killed by gunshots.

Mr. Gbagbo yesterday was reported to be in negotiations with French officials on how to resolve his unintended confrontation with his principal European ally.

Franck Mamadou Bamba of the Ivorian Embassy in Washington said the government had struck at northern rebel forces in order to break a “vicious circle of no war, no peace” and that one of the warplanes “mistakenly hit a group of French soldiers.”

Mr. Bamba said the French had subsequently attacked civilian and military aircraft, fired on protesters and seized control of the international airport.

In the rebel stronghold of Bouake, spokesman Sidiki Konate said: “Only the removal of Laurent Gbagbo from power will restore calm to political business, allow the transition to succeed and the … peace accord to be implemented.”

The peace accord was intended to resolve the issue under which the Gbagbo regime, like its two predecessors, sought to exclude rivals from power by questioning their Ivorian nationality.

Alessane Outtara, a former premier, has been the principal target of this exclusion campaign. A law was passed during the rule of former Prime Minister Henri-Conan Bedie under which Mr. Outtara could not compete for the presidency because his father was believed to have been a national of Burkina Faso and not an Ivorian.

“The founding father of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, held the country together for 33 years until his death in 1993 by practicing the politics of inclusion,” said Mori Diane, an American businessman of West African descent.

“After he died, his three successors all have sought to exclude key Ivorians from power, which is what brought on today’s confrontation.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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