French Minister Enters the Fray in Ivory Coast

From Reuters

France's foreign minister began a bid to broker peace in Ivory Coast on Friday and was blocked by hundreds of angry protesters after initial talks with President Laurent Gbagbo.

Dominique de Villepin arrived on a hastily arranged two-day visit to the former French colony as fighting between rebels and government troops raged in the west.

Angry crowds prevented De Villepin from leaving Gbagbo's residence for more than half an hour after rumors spread that he had come to urge the president to resign.

Gbagbo, elected in 2000 in a disputed vote, intervened to calm the crowd.

De Villepin will also talk with representatives of the main rebel faction, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, to press for a summit in Paris to end the civil war sparked by a failed Sept. 19 coup.

His task has been made more urgent by new fighting in the west that has seen rebels advance to within 125 miles of the port of San Pedro, which exports one-fifth of the world's cocoa crop.

"We're going to sort the problem out," De Villepin told reporters after his talks with Gbagbo at the presidential residence in the main Ivorian city of Abidjan. He was due to travel north to the rebel-held city of Bouake today.

France fears the war will spiral out of control after weeks of West African-brokered peace talks failed to make major progress. Hundreds of people have been killed.

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