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Ivory Coast Protesters Attack Westerners - 2002-10-22

Pro-government demonstrators in Ivory Coast attacked Westerners in an angry protest against the former colonial power, France. The attacks are a sign of rising tension, despite last Thursday's signing of a peace accord by rebels and the government.

Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines and tried to bring down the gates of a French military base near the Abidjan airport. French troops forced them back by firing tear gas and stun grenades at the crowd.

Demonstrators then took to the streets, throwing rocks and smashing the windows of cars belonging to Westerners or anyone else who, in the eyes of the demonstrators, appeared to be French.

French authorities ordered all French schools closed, and French residents, who number in the tens of thousands in Ivory Coast, were put on alert.

The demonstrators protested what some of them believe is France's decision to provide safe haven to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, the main political adversary to President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Ouattara took refuge at the French ambassador's residence last month, after security forces stormed his house during the initial rebel attacks on Abidjan.

Demonstrators chanting anti-French slogans demanded that the French hand over Mr. Ouattara.

France has more than doubled its troop presence in Ivory Coast since the hostilities began. Although their main mission is to protect the lives of French nationals in the country, French troops have recently deployed around the rebel zones to monitor a cease-fire that was signed by the rebels and the government last Thursday.

State-sponsored media have for weeks been critical of the French and their involvement in the country. The criticism eased after President Gbagbo went on state television last week and thanked the French for their assistance.

Embassies of Western nations, including the United States, recently called for employees and their families to leave Ivory Coast.