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Presidential Supporters in Ivory Coast Say War Shifts Against France


Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo say the war in Ivory Coast is now against both rebels and France, after French forces destroyed most Ivorian military aircraft and army weapons. The attacks followed an Ivorian military raid in the rebel-held north that killed nine French peacekeepers and one American aid worker.

In the administrative capital Yamoussoukro, late Saturday, French forces attacked the presidential palace compound there, blowing up three helicopter gunships inside and one the army's most important weapons stockpile.

French forces said they had received orders from the French government in Paris to destroy all Ivorian aircraft.

This prompted a slew of angry appearances by supporters of Mr. Gbagbo on national television, starting with leader of the Young Patriots youth group, Charles Ble Goude. He called for the start of civil disobedience against French interests, saying the former colonial power was as much the enemy now as the northern-based rebels.

Immediately after his appeal, young militants started pouring in the streets of affluent neighborhoods in Abidjan going from house to house, looting and attacking white-skinned foreigners. Witnesses said they recognized among the mob plains clothed soldiers and policemen.

After Mr. Ble Goude spoke, it was the head of the Lady Patriots, Genevieve Bro Gregbe who appealed to Ivorians to defend their country and recover the north from rebels. She accused France of trying to stage a renewed coup against Ivory Coast.

But Young Patriots also moved toward the presidential residence, saying they were afraid Mr. Gbagbo was working on a deal that would have him leave power in exchange for immunity from war crimes. This was not confirmed by French officials.

Another group headed to the airport, which is next to the French base in Abidjan.

French officials said their attacks were retaliation following a raid by the Ivorian military earlier in the day in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, which killed nine French peacekeepers and one American citizen. French forces also destroyed the two fighter jets that carried out the raids. The Ivorian military said it was a mistake that was under investigation.

Those two Russian-made Sukhoi planes that are now destroyed had been bombing rebel areas since Thursday, in violation of a French and U.N. enforced cease-fire. Ivorian army troops have also been trying to move across the cease-fire line, but have been blocked by the more than ten-thousand French soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers on the ground.

A presidential spokesman said Saturday Mr. Gbagbo had decided to resume war because rebels were refusing to disarm despite agreeing to do so in the latest peace deal in Ghana in July. Rebels have accused Mr. Gbagbo of blocking implementation of key political reforms included in peace deals since January 2003.

Earlier Saturday, during an initial rampage by pro-Gbagbo supporters, all French schools in Abidjan were burned down, while many French businesses were also targeted by arson and looting.

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