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French President condemned Killing of his journalist in Ivory Coast
( 2003-10-23 16:17) (Agencies)

A police officer was being held Wednesday in the killing of a French journalist, accused of shooting him in the back of the head with an AK-47 as he waited to interview jailed opposition figures.

French President Jacques Chirac, launching a tour of West Africa, condemned the killing of Jean Helene, a regional reporter for Radio France Internationale (RFI), and demanded "exemplary justice" of Ivory Coast's government.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo called the killing by his police force "an ignoble murder," and said in a statement that he had ordered a full investigation.

This is an undated recent photo of Radio France Internationale radio reporter Jean Helene who was killed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Tuesday night Oct. 21, 2003. [AP]
Helene, 50, died Tuesday night on the sidewalk in front of a police station in downtown Abidjan, the commercial capital of this former French colony.

Helene and other journalists had been waiting outside the police station for the expected release of 11 opposition party members.

The 11 were arrested over the weekend in the latest of several coup-plot investigations in this nation, still tense after a nine-month war that ended in January with a power-sharing deal brokered by France.

According to three police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, Helene was in his car in front of the police station talking on his cell phone when an officer walked over to ask what he was doing.

Helene said he was a reporter, waiting to talk to the opposition party members, the police officials said.

The officer went back inside the station, then came back outside.

The two exchanged more words, and then the officer fired twice with an AK-47, hitting Helene in the back of the head, the police officials said.

Fellow officers disarmed the policeman, who was later tested for the presence of alcohol and drugs. Police were awaiting the test results.

An autopsy showed Helene had been struck in the spine with the butt of the weapon before he was shot, military prosecutor Ange Kessi told reporters late Wednesday.

Ivory Coast Security Minister Martin Bleou canceled a news conference Wednesday on Helene's death, and aides said the government was not yet prepared to speak about it.

French newspapers and radios are the most influential foreign media in the country, which remains divided between rebel-held north and the government-controlled south. Anti-foreign sentiment runs strong among many loyalists in the south, where Abidjan is located. Under heavy pressure over his reporting, Helene's predecessor had been forced to leave the country.

Chirac, starting scheduled visits to Mali and Niger, demanded that Ivory Coast authorities "shed light on everything about this assassination."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin sent a message of condolence to executives of Radio France, saying Africa and the French press had lost "an irreplaceable friend."

Journalism groups, including Reporters Sans Frontieres and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned the killing.

In the northern rebel stronghold of Bouake, rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate condemned the killing, saying it confirmed "the assassination of democracy in Ivory Coast."

Helene is the first foreign journalist killed in Ivory Coast since the once-stable country fell into turmoil with a 1999 coup. Human rights groups report many jailings and beatings of journalists, especially Ivorians, since then.

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