France dispatched another 600 troops Sunday to help calm the volatile situation in the Ivory Coast, where French forces, deployed to enforce a shaky cease-fire, and ordinary civilians have been the targets of violence.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot Marie told reporters the hundreds of troops newly dispatched were tasked exclusively with maintaining security.
Mrs. Alliot Marie said the troops have no other goal besides maintaining public order - and certainly had no intention of destabilizing Ivorian public institutions. To the contrary, she said, French forces are trying to help the war-torn country find peace.
The French defense minister spoke at the end of yet another day marked by violence in the West African country, as government supporters looted parts of the country's commercial center, Abidjan, and French forces battled the angry mobs.
In France, radio and television stations were saturated with news about Ivory Coast, including interviews with frightened French citizens living there.
Anger at the French erupted Saturday. Nine French soldiers were killed during air raids by Ivorian forces targeting northern rebel-held areas. The French responded by destroying
two bombers and helicopters belonging to the Ivory Coast military, effectively wiping out the government's air offensive capabilities.
Earlier Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin saluted the nine French soldiers and an American aid worker who were killed in the bombing raid. Mr. Raffarin described the situation in the Ivory Coast as serious. He said the recent turmoil had shaken France profoundly.
But in an interview on French radio, Ivorian National Assembly President Mamadou Koulibaly accused Paris of trying to seize colonial-style control over Ivory Coast. Mr. Koulibaly denied the government air force had bombed the French military Friday, and accused France of being in cahoots with Ivorian rebels - charges French officials vigorously deny.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier also has taken pains to stress the influx of new French forces are tasked only with keeping order in the country. They add to the four-thousand French troops and six-thousand U.N. soldiers charged with maintaining a shaky cease-fire between the Ivorian government and the rebels.
The French government and international leaders have called for Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to calm things down, and Paris says it will hold the Ivorian leader personally responsible if the situation deteriorates further.