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France, Ivory Coast Trade Barbs Over Relations


France's foreign minister says Paris remains committed to ensuring territorial integrity and regional stability in Africa, where France was once a key colonial power. He was responding to criticism of France by the president of Ivory Coast.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was asked during an interview on France's RTL radio about remarks by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who said French peacekeeping forces stationed in Ivory Coast were deeply unpopular, and that relations between the two countries must change.

Douste-Blazy did not directly respond to Mr. Gbagbo's comments, made in an interview with France's Le Figaro newspaper.

But the French foreign minister said France is committed to pushing for democratic elections in Africa and elsewhere, and to territorial integrity and stability in Africa. Many experts fear that unrest in Ivory Coast could destabilize other countries in West Africa. Douste-Blazy also said that relations between France and Africa are already changing, simply by keeping up with the times.

In the interview with Le Figaro, Mr. Gbagbo said new relations between France and Ivory Coast were inevitable. Cooperation between the two countries must remain, he said, but it must be renewed. Mr. Gbagbo also said Paris was arrogant in suggesting it understood African countries better than they understood themselves.

Relations between Paris and Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters have been uneasy for years. And the roughly 4,000 French troops stationed in Ivory Coast, maintaining a shaky peace alongside 7,000 United Nations forces, are also controversial. Mr. Gbagbo's supporters are against what they consider interference in their country by U.N. and former colonial powers.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gbagbo facilitated the recent extradition of an ethnic Ivorian, Youssouf Fofana, to France. Fofana is suspected of being the leader of a gang that tortured a young Jewish French man to death last month.

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