Security, Loyalists Clash in Ivory Coast

Security forces fired on armed attackers Tuesday as thousands of angry government loyalists massed outside a French evacuation post for foreigners, reportedly killing seven people and wounding 200 in violence pitting France (search) against its former prize colony.

Denying any responsibility, France's military said loyalist demonstrators opened fire as a French convoy left the post, and Ivorian security forces returned fire.

The bloodletting erupted at a onetime luxury hotel French forces have commandeered as an evacuation center for 1,300 French and other foreigners rescued from rampages across the commercial capital, Abidjan (search).

An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of three demonstrators outside a hospital, their bodies draped in Ivorian flags.

The chaos in Ivory Coast (search), the world's top cocoa producer and West Africa's former economic powerhouse, broke out Saturday when Ivory Coast warplanes killed nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker in an airstrike on the rebel-held north.

France wiped out the nation's air force on the tarmac in retaliation, sparking anti-French rampages by thousands in the fiercely nationalist south.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday gave wide support to a resolution that would impose sanctions against Ivory Coast if the country's government and rebels don't return to a peace process by the beginning of December, diplomats said.

"It's much more effective if you hold a gun to their head, rather than pull the trigger," Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram said.

The French set up their evacuation center Monday a few hundred yards from the home of President Laurent Gbagbo, and the site has become a flashpoint for violence.

Ivory Coast's U.N. ambassador lashed out at France on Tuesday for destroying the country's tiny air force in retaliation for the deaths of nine French soldiers, saying the move robbed the military of its one advantage over rebel forces.

"The paternalistic attitude of our good friends from France is creating the problems," Philippe Djangone-Bi said at the United Nations. "It is the French policy which creates chaos."

Abidjan's Cocody Hospital received seven dead and more than 200 wounded, said Dr. Sie Podipte, the emergency room chief.

Four days of confrontations have killed at least 20 other people, wounded 700 and shut down cocoa exports from the world's largest producer.

On Tuesday, stunned protesters filled the hospital, and survivors lay out the bodies of some of the dead. A woman lay on the ground, screaming.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, sent by the 54-nation African Union to find a political solution to the crisis, said before Tuesday's shooting that Gbagbo had recommitted to carrying out tension-easing measures agreed to in past accords in the country's 2-year-old civil war.

On Monday, Ivory Coast and French generals called on protesters to go home after state radio and TV had urged them to mass at Gbagbo's home and a nearby broadcast center.

French leaders have said they hold Gbagbo — installed by his supporters in 2000 after an aborted vote count in presidential elections — responsible for Saturday's airstrike and subsequent anti-foreigner rampages.

U.N. Security Council diplomats weighed a French-backed draft resolution for an arms embargo of Ivory Coast and a travel ban and asset freeze of those blocking peace, violating human rights and preventing the disarmament of combatants. China was balking at the measures, diplomats said.

France has 4,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, where a civil war launched in September 2002 has left the country split between rebel north and loyalist south. About 6,000 U.N. troops are also deployed in a buffer zone.

Saturday's bombing came on the third day of Ivory Coast airstrikes on rebel positions, breaking a more than year-old cease-fire.

France also said Tuesday it was readying aircraft for any evacuations, and Spain sent an airplane for any of its nationals who wanted to leave.

Violence also was reported in the central town of Gagnoa, with loyalists clashing with people of other tribes, leaving several dead and wounded, a city official said.