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EU seeks further probe of Coca-Cola

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union has told Belgium and France to investigate further why more than 200 people got sick after drinking Coca-Cola, while one study commissioned by the company reportedly suggests the illness was psychosomatic.

Precautionary bans on supermarket sales of Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite were extended into a second week today. France is banning Coca-Cola's canned beverages, while Belgium is keeping both canned and bottled Coca-Cola drinks off the shelves.Similar curbs in effect in the Dutch, German and Spanish markets on Coca-Cola products from bottling plants in Antwerp, Belgium, and Dunkirk, France.

Meanwhile, commerce officials in Ivory Coast reportedly seized nearly 50,000 cans of Coke imported from Europe as a precautionary measure. Officials with the Ministry of Internal Trade pulled the cans from supermarket shelves around this West African nation late last week, the government newspaper Fraternite-Matin reported today.

Cans seized here have been sent to private laboratories for analysis, the newspaper said. There was no evidence, however, that anyone in Ivory Coast has become ill by drinking imported Coke.

Cans imported from Europe and elsewhere in Africa represent just 1 percent of national consumption in Ivory Coast.

Following a proposal by the Executive Commission of the 15-nation EU, "Belgium and France will have joint inspections of Coca-Cola plants in next few days," Commission spokesman Pietro Petrucci said today.

Health officials in Belgium and France have vowed to continue some sort of a ban until Coca-Cola can explain why people got sick.

An Atlanta newspaper said Coca-Cola officials have received a report from a toxicologist from at Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, concluding that the illnesses were psychosomatic.

The toxicologist's report, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the "pattern of this epidemic is consistent with a clinical entity which has been described as 'mass sociogenic illness."'

"In terms of public health, the most appropriate response to this kind of phenomenon is reassurance of the population," wrote the toxicologist, identified only as D. Lison, who reviewed the cases for Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola has said cans were contaminated with defective carbon dioxide at the Antwerp plant, while cans from Dunkirk were contaminated with a wood preservative during shipping. But the toxicologist reportedly said the amounts were too small to pose a medical risk.

Coke's arguments have so far failed to convince European authorities.

"The Commission still does not have satisfactory information on source of contamination," said Petrucci. "That is an important aspect. It does need to be cleared up."

The company tried to reassure customers in France with an ad campaign in major daily newspaper today. The ads said analyses by Coca-Cola and by independent teams show that "the drink is not in question ... Its quality is irreproachable."

Douglas Ivester, chairman of Coca-Cola Co., returned to the company's Atlanta headquarters over the weekend after talks with local management. He did not meet with Belgian or EU officials.

The Belgian government imposed its ban June 14 after dozens of youngsters were hospitalized complaining of stomach pains and nausea after drinking Coca-Cola products.