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French Tanks Mass Near President's Home in Abidjan

Dozens of French tanks have deployed near the presidential residence in the Ivory Coast commercial capital, Abidjan, where shooting has broken out. This follows two-days of massive anti-French protest and looting in Abidjan and attacks by the Ivorian military on rebel positions in the north of the country.

More than 30 French tanks were positioned Monday around the city's main hotel, Hotel Ivoire, which is near the residence of President Gbagbo and the French embassy. French troops fired their guns to disperse angry crowds, causing panic and, reportedly, injuring several people.

French officials said they were securing the zone. French tanks were also positioned on the city's main bridges and at the airport. Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said an important declaration was being prepared.

Ivorian state radio said French forces were possibly preparing a coup, and called for massive protests to prevent this from happening.

Saturday and Sunday, activists, militias and soldiers went on a two-day rampage, looting and attacking French military bases and French-owned businesses, including many gas stations, schools, and homes. Looting stopped after a speech by Mr. Gbagbo late Sunday calling for calm.

A pro-Gbagbo militia leader, known as Colonel Watchard, said French troops now need to return to their barracks. He says tensions will ease only after French troops stop occupying Ivory Coast.

Pro-Gbagbo supporters marched towards the Hotel Ivoire Monday, trying to form a human shield around the tanks there.

They also went to hospitals to give gifts and food to protesters who had been injured in the recent unrest, including Wilfrid, who appealed for international help against the French.

"We get to the streets to say our opinion that international people can save us, can stop the war, can put the French soldiers out of killing," he said. "The French soldiers can shoot their guns on us."

State television showed footage of at least four Ivorians killed in the recent unrest.

Some 4,000 French troops have been in Ivory Coast since late 2002 to enforce a cease-fire between government troops and northern rebels. Their mandate is to assist an additional six-thousand U.N. peacekeepers as a rapid reaction force.

The French defense ministry Monday called on rebels and the army to resume negotiations.

The army broke a cease-fire last week bombing rebel positions. One of the attacks killed nine French soldiers and one American citizen, prompting French forces to destroy all Ivorian military and government aircraft.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is due in Abidjan later in the week to help end the crisis. Rebels have refused to disarm, saying Mr. Gbagbo is blocking implementation of key political reforms included in several peace agreements.