Chad schoolchildren stage anti-French protest

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N'DJAMENA, Nov 14 (Reuters) Hundreds of Chadian schoolchildren shouting anti-French slogans demonstrated in the capital N'Djamena today to protest against an attempt by a French group to fly children out of the country to Europe.

The protesters, aged between 14 and 18 and wearing their school uniforms, yelled slogans outside the French embassy and school and threw stones at vehicles driven by white foreigners or carrying diplomatic plates.

Police firing tear gas moved in to disperse them from outside the embassy building.

The young demonstrators also threatened foreign journalists, shouting ''Whites, children snatchers!''.

Several protests have taken place in Chad since authorities last month arrested a group of French humanitarian activists accused of trying to fly 103 African children aged 1-10 to Europe without authorisation.] Six French nationals face trial on fraud and abduction charges and could be sentenced to forced labour terms if convicted.

The case has strained relations between France and its former colony. Popular outrage in Chad has increased since French President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened this month to obtain the release of three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants who had been detained over the affair.

''Sarko, out of Chad!'', ''Whites, out of Chad!'', the protesters shouted before gathering outside the presidential palace.

The French organisation Zoe's Ark whose six members face trial in Chad has said it planned to place orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region with families in Europe for fostering.

United Nations officials said the vast majority of the children were not orphans but came from families living on the Chad-Sudan border.

Some local families said the Zoe's Ark members had persuaded them to hand over their children for education in local towns in eastern Chad, but they had never mentioned flying them overseas to Europe.

UN aid officials working in eastern Chad say they are concerned that the scandal over the affair could hamper their efforts to care for more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur and displaced Chadians in the violent border area.

On Friday, Chad also released three Spanish air crew members and a Belgian pilot who had been detained over the case.

Reuters ARB RN1729

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