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Anti-French mood roils Ivory Coast

Mobs of government supporters looted French businesses and attacked French nationals Sunday.

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The smoldering civil war in Ivory Coast - a two-year, on-again off-again conflict between the government and northern rebels - began looking more like a battle between France and its former colony over the weekend.

French troops - deployed last year as part of a peacekeeping mission - destroyed much of the Ivorian Air Force Saturday in retaliation for a government bombing raid on the country's second-largest city of Bouake, in which France said nine of its troops were killed along with an unnamed American aid worker.

In response, Ivorian state television urged citizens to take to the streets, which they did with a vengeance, witnesses reported. French troops spent much of Saturday night and Sunday protecting French citizens from machete-wielding mobs in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

The weekend violence underscores a growing anti-French sentiment that has been simmering of late, and according to Ivory Coast officials, throws into question France's role as a neutral peacekeeper.

"France has declared war on the Ivory Coast, that's how it looks to us," says Sery Bahi, a senior adviser to President Laurent Gbagbo, speaking by phone from Abidjan. He says Mr. Gbagbo is willing to have direct talks with French President Jacques Chirac. "We now know the real problem we have is not with the rebels but with France. We want to understand what is it the French government wants from us."

France is not trying to destabilize the Ivory Coast government but enforce security, the French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in a statement.

Ivory Coast's latest spiral into violence has been a quick one. Last Thursday, after months of a quiet but tense peace, the government launched airstrikes on the north of the country, held for the past two years by rebels known as the New Forces. Government jets then bombed the French military post on Saturday.

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