Scores of stone-throwing young people took to the streets of Chad's capital on Wednesday to protest an alleged attempt by a French charity to fly 103 children to Europe.
About 100 protesters gathered at a plaza in N'djamena commemorating Chad's 1960 independence from France, shouting "Sarkozy, thief," referring to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew to Chad early this month to bring home several French citizens who had been briefly detained in connection with the alleged attempt by the charity, Zoe's Ark, to spirit the children out of France. Six Zoe's Ark workers remain in custody here, charged with kidnapping.
The protesters also threw stones at a car used by a Franco-Chadian cooperation group. Police later dispersed the crowd. No injuries were reported.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said the French Embassy has urged its citizens to exercise "renewed prudence" as they move around N'djamena and to avoid going to neighborhoods outside the center of the capital.
"We are following the situation with attention, we are in permanent contact with the Chadian authorities responsible for maintaining order," Andreani said in his response to the protests.
The protest came a day before Ireland's foreign minister was to visit Chad's capital. Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern was in the region ahead of deployment expected this month in eastern Chad of a European Union force tasked with protecting Darfur refugees driven from Sudan. While an Irish general will command it, about half the 3,000-strong force will be French.
Tensions over the Zoe's Ark affair could mean a rocky start for the force.
Zoe's Ark said the children it planned to fly out of Chad were orphans from Sudan's Darfur region. France's Foreign Ministry and others, though, have cast doubt on the claim that the children were orphans from Darfur, where fighting since 2003 has forced thousands to flee to Chad. Aid workers who interviewed the children said a majority of them reported living with at least one adult they considered a parent and that many appeared to be Chadian.
In all, 17 Europeans, including three journalists and flight crew members, were arrested on Oct. 25, stopped from boarding a plane to France with the children. The journalists and flight crew members were later released.
If convicted, the six French citizens still held face up to 20 years in prison with hard labor.