Ivory Coast: January 29, 2003


President Laurent Gbagbo returned overnight on the 27th, after approving a peace deal in Paris that sparked massive anti-French protests back home. The protests started on the 25th, after Gbagbo named former diplomat Seydou Diarra as his country's new consensus prime minister. Diarra, a neutral figure who has held the post before in Ivory Coast, was tasked with heading an inclusive national unity reconciliation government.

The crowd, angry at the concept of France dictating Ivorian politics, had appeared each day since then. They dispersed for awhile after Gbagbo appealed for calm on the 26th. Protesters armed with sticks, machetes and makeshift weapons set bonfires outside the French embassy and lobbed burning tires and metal objects inside the compound. French soldiers backed by Puma helicopters, fired stun grenades to disperse the mob lapping at the embassy walls.

The rioters also attacked French-owned businesses, including the main office of flagship carrier Air France, several offices of the French mobile telephone firm Orange and demonstrated in front of a French military garrison near the airport in Abidjan, the country's economic hub. Traffic was hindered by massive roadblocks of burning tires.

Meanwhile, unscrupulous elements are exploiting the chaos. The Ivorian military reported that unidentified armed men of staging a bloody attack on their forces in the western town of Toulepleu at 14.00 on the 23rd. The government claimed to have killed 25 of the 400 to 500 attackers, mostly Liberian mercenaries. They admitted losing four dead and 15 wounded, but captured a notable number of weapons. MPIGO rebel chief Sergeant Felix Doh "categorically" denied that his men were in any way involved in the Toulepleu attack.

The French also killed eight to ten unidentified attackers on the 22nd, when they repulsed a ten-minute assault on their positions at Duekoue. Duekoue has been the scene of four earlier clashes between the rebels and French soldiers. - Adam Geibel


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