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Expats flee bloody uprising in Ivory Coast

A French soldier guards the airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast as French citizens are evacuated on Wednesday Keystone

A full-scale evacuation of foreign nationals is underway in Ivory Coast, and the Swiss foreign minister has said citizens will be assisted in leaving the country.

This content was published on November 10, 2004 - 21:20

The move comes after days of escalating violence targeted mainly at troops and citizens of France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler.

"The situation is very volatile at the moment,” Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We are looking at ways of evacuating our nationals who wish to go."

Calmy-Rey said 267 Swiss live in the capital of Abidjan, and "more than half of them want to leave the country".

The evacuation follows a weekend air strike by the government that killed nine French peacekeepers and one American and broke a year-long ceasefire in the country’s civil war.

In retaliation, France wiped out the nation’s newly built air force within hours, sparking violent attacks by street gangs.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross says fighting since Saturday has left dozens dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

Mass exodus

Wednesday’s evacuation is one of the largest in Africa's post-independence era, with the first of thousands of foreigners flying out on requisitioned commercial airliners.

Convoys of vehicles sent by the American embassy and other nations' representatives collected foreigners from their homes to transport them to waiting planes. Ivory Coast state television appealed for calm but also called for a mass uprising against the French.

France says it will fly out 4,000 to 8,000 people. French soldiers in boats plucked some trapped citizens from the banks of Abidjan's lagoons.

Individual decision

A formal evacuation of Swiss residents is not planned at this point, although the embassy is in “constant contact”, providing information and assistance, said Ivo Sieber, foreign ministry spokesman.

"We leave the decision with each individual."

French President Jacques Chirac has demanded that the government of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo rein in his thousands of hard-line supporters. They have targeted foreigners, often indiscriminately, looting and burning property.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Ivory Coast, home to 267 Swiss, has been divided between the rebel north and the loyalist south since civil war broke out in September 2002.

On November 4, government war planes bombarded the rebel-held north, breaking a year-long ceasefire.

In the past four days, clashes between government supporters and French forces left dozens dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

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