French, US and British airliners help hundreds of foreigners to leave the &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2003/01/09/41760.html ' target=_blank>Ivory Coast while South African leaders launch urgent peace talks on a crisis, which threatens to destabilise West Africa.
Residents in the commercial capital, meanwhile, stared hopelessly at the burned-out wreckage of their shops and offices as a measure of calm returned to Abidjan after five days of anti-foreigner mob violence.
France and other nations launched the evacuations on Wednesday. Convoys sent out by the US Embassy and other nations gathered foreigners from their homes while &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/cis/2002/01/08/25011.html ' target=_blank>French soldiers in boats plucked some trapped citizens from the banks of Abidjan's lagoons.
A French official has said between 4,000 to 8,000 of its 14,000 citizens wanted to leave, a number that alone would make it one of the largest evacuations of Africa's post-independence era, informs The Age.
According to Reuters, a number of European women were raped during days of chaotic mob violence in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, the French forces organising the evacuation of hundreds of foreigners said on Thursday.
"It is confirmed. The facts have been checked and we won't make any comment because it is so serious," French army spokesman Henry Aussavy said.
Foreigners awaiting evacuation at &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/101/399/14248_Annan.html ' target=_blank>United Nations and French military bases in Abidjan said they had heard reports that at least three women, including one eastern European and one French national, had been raped during the chaos.
"We gave our clothes to two women (at a U.N. base) ... They told us they had been raped," Annick Marcellesi, a 49-year-old French woman, told Reuters.
"After 23 years in Ivory Coast, I have 60 kilograms of luggage and a dog," said a Belgian businessman as he boarded a plane to leave.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building