More Europeans Flee Ivory Coast

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Spain and Canada evacuated more foreigners — including at least 37 Americans — from the Ivory Coast as the West African nation launched a military inquiry Friday into a deadly airstrike on French peacekeepers that sparked five days of violent upheaval.

Ivorian warplanes last weekend opened fire in the rebel-held north, killing nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker. The government has denied responsibility for the Nov. 6 attack and called it a mistake.

"We have only one mission, one goal: to establish the truth," chief military prosecutor Ange Kessi said as he announced the probe on state-run television.

The military will ask the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast to send representatives to rebel headquarters in the northern city of Bouake (search) to assist the inquiry, Kessi said.

Within hours of Saturday's attack, France wiped out the nation's newly built-up air force, sparking an uprising in the south by loyalist youths, who took to the streets with machetes, iron bars and clubs.

France, which has some 14,000 citizens here, and other nations began flying out foreigners Wednesday.

French helicopters plucked trapped foreigners from surrounding villages and brought them to Abidjan's international airport, which was still crowded Friday with frightened families waiting for flights out.

A Spanish military plane evacuated 89 people, including 37 Americans. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos (search) said Thursday the United States asked Spain to evacuate at least 90 Americans, but some left on a Canadian plane.

Some evacuees complained Friday that France used excessive force against a surge of anti-foreigner mob violence.

An American restaurant owner, who asked not to be identified, and other witnesses said French helicopters fired on demonstrators in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

"Man, we heard of a lot of Ivorian friends dying," the owner said.

The head of France's armed forces, Gen. Henri Bentegeat (search), said Friday that French soldiers fired in self-defense during the five days of mayhem to hold back a "pack of looters, rapists" attacking foreigners.

But he said the soldiers did "the absolute minimum" and claimed "a very large number" of casualties were killed by gunmen in the crowd.

At least three European women were raped during the rioting, Catherine Rechenmann told France-Inter radio Thursday night.

The turmoil since Saturday has claimed at least 27 lives — including the 10 people killed in the airstrike — and wounded more than 1,000. Ivory Coast presidential spokesman Desire Tagro said 62 loyalists had died.

A measure of calm returned to Abidjan on Thursday. Some shops reopened and traffic returned to streets strewn with charred vehicles. Residents crowded supermarkets and waited at ATMs. Others stared with tears in their eyes at the looted wreckage of shops.

In Abidjan, youth leader Ble Goude told his followers to stop attacking French nationals in their homes. But he urged them to maintain a presence outside President Laurent Gbagbo's (search) residence and the national broadcast station to protect them from attack.

The mayhem, driven by Gbagbo's fiercely patriotic supporters and checked only intermittently by his government, has been condemned by fellow African leaders and generated moves toward U.N. sanctions.

Peace talks opened by South African President Thabo Mbeki continued Friday in Pretoria with political representatives from Ivory Coast, including opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. A spokesman for Ivory Coast's main insurgency said they would not participate.