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US Presses Ivorian President to Curb Violence

The United States is pressing Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to rein-in his supporters after a surge in violence in the west African country triggered by government air strikes against rebels last week. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to Mr. Gbagbo Saturday.

The United States condemned the government air strikes late last week that touched off the latest crisis in Ivory Coast, and it is making clear that it holds Mr. Gbagbo responsible for the ensuing clashes between his followers and French peacekeeping forces Saturday that left hundreds of people injured.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary Powell spoke to Mr. Gbagbo by telephone Saturday and that the U.S. message has been reiterated in multiple discussions with the Ivorian leader by the U.S. Ambassador in Abidjan Aubrey Hooks.

"The situation today is relatively calm, but tense after large demonstrations and violence over the weekend," said Mr. Boucher. "Our ambassador, Ambassador Hooks has spoken several times to President Gbagbo making clear that President Gbagbo needs to stop all military activities, control street violence, and speak publicly on the need for his supporters to remain peaceful and law abiding."

Nine French peacekeeping troops and an American agronomist working with a west African regional agricultural group were killed Saturday in a strafing attack by Ivorian government aircraft in the rebel stronghold of Boake.

French forces responded by destroying almost all the country's combat aircraft including two jets and at least three attack helicopters. Spokesman Boucher said the response by the French was "necessary" to protect their personnel from further attacks.

He noted that a U.N. Security Council statement on the crisis issued Sunday also expressed full support for action taken by France, which has reinforced its military presence in Ivory Coast.

About 4,000 French soldiers and about 6,000 U.N. troops have been in Ivory Coast for two years to monitor a cease-fire between the government and northern rebels.

The State Department issued a travel warning Sunday urging U.S. citizens to defer travel to the Ivory Coast because of what it termed the "volatile" situation, including attacks on foreigners in Abidjan.