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France Denies Intentions to Oust Gbagbo

The head of the French rapid reaction force in Ivory Coast, whose armored vehicles took up positions near the residence of President Laurent Gbagbo, says France has no intention of overthrowing the government.

The statement by French General Henri Poncet followed a meeting Monday with the commander of the Ivorian armed forces, General Mathias Doue and head of the U.N. peacekeeping force, Aboulaye Fall.

Gen. Poncet says the goal of French forces is to restore order so that both Ivorians and foreigners can resume normal life. He says he is looking forward to working with the Ivorian army in carrying out joint patrols. He says France respects the government of Mr. Gbagbo.

Commander of the Ivorian army, General Doue, said restoring peace in Ivory Coast is a top priority. He says preparatory meetings for joint patrols with the French troops are under way. He says the idea for such patrols had first been proposed six months ago, but was never implemented. He says Ivory Coast is, in his words, "disintegrating" because the rebels who control northern Ivory Coast refused to disarm by the October 15 deadline set out in the July peace agreement.

Monday's meeting was also attended by speaker of the National Assembly Mamadou Coulibaly, who accused the French over the weekend of trying to oust President Gbagbo's government. Mr. Coulibaly calls on the president's supporters to stay on alert, but appealed to the crowds to disperse and stop looting. He says there is no sense in ruining Ivory Coast's economy.

More than 30 French tanks and armored vehicles deployed at the hotel where the meeting took place located near the president's residence. The massive presence of the French armor prompted accusations that France was preparing to overthrow the government.

Despite the appeals from the French military and the Ivorian government, thousands of people gathered in the streets of Abidjan, waving flags and chanting patriotic songs.

Tensions in Ivory Coast escalated over the weekend when the Ivorian military attacked positions in the rebel-held north and killed nine French soldiers. The French, in response, wiped out all Ivorian military and government aircraft. In the protest and widespread looting that followed, dozens of Ivorians were wounded and several were killed. There were hundreds of injuries reported Monday and a few deaths after the French troops fired to disperse angry crowds.

The latest outburst of violence further complicates the implementation of a series of peace agreements aimed at reuniting Ivory Coast.