Machete-waving mobs went on the rampage in Ivory Coast’s largest cities today after a day of sudden ground and air clashes between forces of France and its former colony.
France’s military responded in force, sending helicopters to pluck trapped expatriates from buildings as other French helicopters and armoured vehicles moved to confront the mobs, lobbing volleys of tear gas and percussion grenades that sent rioters fleeing.
French gunships took up positions at bridges in Abidjan this morning, a day after seizing control of the country’s two airports and flying in 600 reinforcements.
Ivory Coast – its air force destroyed and its airports taken in retaliation for an airstrike on a French peacekeeping position a day earlier – reluctantly conceded it was willing to agree to a ceasefire, and that it would pull back troops.
Ivory Coast will ask the .. Security Council for action against France, said presidential spokesman Desire Tagro. “We are faced with aggression by one country against another country. We are going to inform the entire world … that France has come to attack us.”
France’s military strikes came in retaliation for the Ivory Coast air force’s surprise bombing of a French peacekeeping position in the north, a region held by Ivory Coast rebels since civil war broke out in September 2002 in the world’s top cocoa producer.
About 4,000 French and 6,000 UN troops are posted in Ivory Coast, manning a buffer zone between rebel north and loyalist south and trying to hold together a country vital to stability of a troubled region.
Saturday’s airstrike killed nine French troops and an American consultant working for an aid group.
Mob violence after France’s retaliation claimed more victims. A Red Cross official, Kim Gordon-Bates, said about 150 people had been wounded in Abidjan, mostly from bullets.
About 300 French troop reinforcements landed at Abidjan’s international airport, which was taken by France late last night after it destroyed what it said was the entire Ivory Coast air force – five helicopter gunships and the two Russian-made Sukhoi warplanes used in the airstrike on the French.
Another 300 reinforcements would be sent from France, the French Defence Ministry said. Three French military planes, including a medical support aircraft, were en route to Ivory Coast, while three French military Mirage fighter jets were on standby in the West African nation of Gabon.
Still more reinforcements headed toward Abidjan this afternoon from the capital, Yamoussoukro, to confront the mobs.