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Ivory Coast Policeman Questioned in Killing of French Reporter

A policeman in Ivory Coast is being questioned on suspicion of killing a French journalist who was investigating the arrest of opposition militants.

Eyewitnesses in the commercial capital, Abidjan, say the policeman shot and killed Radio France International reporter Jean Hélčne near police headquarters late Tuesday.

Mr. Hélčne had been waiting to interview a dozen opposition militants who were about to be released from police custody.

A spokesman for the French embassy says the policeman approached the journalist, and the two argued before the shooting took place. The policeman was then disarmed by other officers and taken in for questioning.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo visited the crime scene and called for an investigation. French President Jacques Chirac, who is visiting Africa called the killing an assassination.

The news director of Radio France International, Jerome Bouvier, says he was shocked, saying Mr. Hélčne had a passion for Africa, where he covered several wars during the 1990s.

In mourning, Radio France International dropped its regular programming and played classical music.

Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo have accused journalists from France, the former colonial power, of backing northern-based rebels since their failed coup last year. The rebels still control the northern half of Ivory Coast.

Adama Dembele, a leader of the Rally of the Republicans political party, which has its base of support in the mainly Muslim north, said he believes Mr. Hélčne was killed because of his aggressive reporting. He said Ivory Coast has entered a new phase of terror, where there is no freedom of expression, and he said he fears the situation will get worse.

Political opponents of Mr. Gbagbo are planning a protest march on November 8, despite a ban on such demonstrations. Rebels suspended their participation in a power-sharing government last month, saying Mr. Gbagbo is refusing to implement the French-mediated peace accord reached in January.