ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Nearly 100,000 loyalists marched through Ivory Coast's main city Saturday, burning French flags and calling for the death of the French president in the biggest protest yet against a French-brokered peace deal.
The demonstration by government supporters angered at the prospect of sharing power with rebels came as West African leaders met with President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan to try to salvage the accord.
Regional leaders have long worried that the four-month insurgency in Ivory Coast, once West Africa's most prosperous and stable nation, might erupt into full-scale civil war.
One day after a larger regional summit on the crisis, the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana and Togo spoke for more than two hours with Gbagbo but flew home without comment _ or any sign of having succeeded.
French and other foreigners have been fleeing loyalist rampages in the former French colony ahead of Gbagbo's tensely awaited _ and repeatedly delayed _ pronouncement on whether the peace deal would stand or fall.
Demonstrators Saturday celebrated the French exodus.
``Chirac is dead. Ivory Coast is free!'' marchers cried, referring to French President Jacques Chirac. One man dragged an iron tub filled with palm leaves that he said represented ``all the baggage the French will take as they leave Ivory Coast.''
The march came a day after a mob of 5,000 stone-throwing loyalists invaded Abidjan's international airport: They stormed planes on the tarmac and taunted, slapped and spit at terrorized French families trying to leave. Two French soldiers were injured by hurled rocks.
France has 2,500 troops based in Ivory Coast to protect more than 16,000 French civilians. France urged its citizens Friday to leave the troubled nation, a measure most Western nations took weeks or months earlier.
Unlike recent demonstrations, Saturday's march was peaceful. Most protesters, mainly young men but some young women and adolescents, appeared unarmed.
The tone was fiercely anti-France, yet the crowd eagerly cheered a small cadre of about 50 longtime French residents of Ivory Coast _ some with their children _ who marched in sympathy with Ivorian friends and colleagues.
``If this is an extremist march, then I am extremist too,'' declared Cecile Curinier, a 31-year-old French woman.
Marchers with faces painted white and wearing clothing in the orange, white and green of Ivory Coast's flag hefted mock coffins emblazoned with Chirac's name, chanting, ``Death to Chirac!'' Other protesters sang and chanted as they burned French flags.
Initially, Gbagbo talked in support of the accord, reached Jan. 24 outside Paris, but appeared to waver as the street protests raged. In a brief speech Tuesday _ his only public comment in days _ he called the peace terms only ``propositions.''
He has since postponed a national address on the peace deal, a speech widely feared as a potential trigger for new violence. It could mean a return to fighting by rebels if he rejects the accord, or a mutiny among government ranks if he accepts it.
International companies have been recalling employees and their families this week from Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer. Abidjan is a leading West African port and, with Lagos, Nigeria, one of two key bases for multinational firms in the region.
On Saturday, families of employees of Africa's leading development institution _ the 53-African nation African Development Bank _ flew to Dakar in what they said was a bank-ordered evacuation. The bank is Ivory Coast's single largest foreign employer, with 1,000 jobs.
Ivory Coast has collapsed into ethnic, political and regional turmoil since a 1999 coup. Rebels behind the civil war accuse Gbagbo of fanning ethnic hatred and demand his resignation.
The French-brokered accord would put rebels and the government into a power-sharing administration until 2005 elections. Loyalists have objected most strongly to unconfirmed rebel claims that the deal gives them control of Ivory Coast's military and paramilitary.