Air raid kills eight French soldiers

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The Independent Online

Eight French soldiers and anAmerican were killed when Ivory Coast government warplanes bombed French peacekeepers in the rebel-held north yesterday, French officials said.

Eight French soldiers and anAmerican were killed when Ivory Coast government warplanes bombed French peacekeepers in the rebel-held north yesterday, French officials said.

Twenty-three other French troops were injured in the air attack, which had France scrambling fighter jets to West Africa and sending reinforcements to Ivory Coast. French infantry destroyed the Ivory Coast warplanes believed to be responsible for the bombing.

Meanwhile, mob violence erupted in the country's fiercely loyalist commercial capital, Abidjan. Thousands of people armed with machetes, axes and clubs took to the streets in search of French targets.

Loyalist mobs shouted, "French go home" as they set fire to a French school and tried to storm a French military base in Abidjan.

About 4,000 French peacekeepers and 6,000 UN forces deployed in Ivory Coast months ago to try to maintain a ceasefire between rebel forces in the north and government supporters in the south.

While French forces have often served to protect the government from the rebels, the French are widely resented in the fiercely nationalist south, which suspects the outsiders of siding with the rebels.

France's Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, demanded action from President Laurent Gbagbo. He said the Ivory Coast president must "clearly assume his responsibilities and the role that is his to return the country to calm - especially in Abidjan".

The sudden confrontation between the two armies, and the resulting chaos, threatened a serious escalation of the civil war, reignited by the government on Thursday after a ceasefire that had lasted more than a year.

The tumult began yesterday, when government warplanes bombed a French position at the town of Brobo, outside the rebel stronghold of Boauke, UN and French spokesmen in Ivory Coast said.

While the US embassy in Abidjan had no immediate details, an embassy spokeswoman, Ergibe Boyd, said that America had no military or other officials in the area and that the US victim was almost certainly a missionary.

France sent three Mirage fighter jets to nearby Gabon, a French military spokesman, Col Henry Aussavy, said. France also ordered additional troops to Ivory Coast.

In the capital, Yamoussoukro, French infantry destroyed two Russian-made Sukhoi warplanes -- the airplanes believed used in three days of bombing, including yesterday's attack on the French.

An Ivory Coast cabinet minister, Sebastien Dano Djeje, said: "It was a mistake. We didn't aim to hit them."

In Abidjan, French troops fired into the air and used tear gas to hold back large mobs trying to overrun a French military base. French and Ivory Coast troops traded gunfire on the tarmac of the international airport, as government troops tried to destroy French aircraft in retaliation.

The clash there ended after more than an hour, with one French soldier lightly wounded and a French aircraft damaged.

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