ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – French soldiers used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters who demonstrated Tuesday outside a French military base in Ivory Coast, a French diplomat said. Witnesses said several protesters were injured.
The demonstrators demanded that France hand over opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara, who has sheltered in the French Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's southern commercial center, since a coup last month, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Southern Ivorians widely suspect that Ouattara was behind the Sept. 19 grab for power by rebels who have since seized half the west African country in a monthlong uprising. Ouattara has denied any involvement.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Bima military base, where most French troops in Abidjan are garrisoned. Ivory Coast is a former French colony.
Witnesses said there were several thousand protesters. They said protesters were injured when soldiers dispersed the crowd.
The diplomat said there were several hundred protesters, and said he was unaware how many were hurt.
The embassy advised French residents to stay home Tuesday and closed all French schools. The government advised people to stay away from the area.
Witnesses said a crowd was still camped outside the base Tuesday afternoon, saying they would not leave until Ouattara was released.
Also Tuesday, President Laurent Gbagbo's administration condemned violent ethnic attacks in a government-held city — including the killing of civilians and burning of homes — but denied reports that enlisted soldiers were involved.
Residents in Daloa, a western cocoa city of 160,000 people, say forces loyal to the largely Christian, southern-based government have attacked members of the northern, Muslim Dioula tribe and migrants from neighboring Burkina Faso. Witnesses said uniformed troops dragged people from their homes and shot them.
Gbagbo spokesman Toussaint Alain called the reports "extremely serious and condemnable," but insisted they "were not the actions of the regular army."
The government recaptured Daloa last week from the insurgents.
Led by a core group of between 750-800 soldiers, many dismissed from the army for suspected disloyalty, the rebels say they are fighting for the rights of northern Ivorians, who long have felt downtrodden by the government.