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Mobs rampage in Ivory Coast in third day of violent protests

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Loyalist mobs waving machetes and metal clubs ran riot through Ivory Coast's main city Monday, in a third day of protests over a power-sharing peace deal with rebels.

Throngs of angry young men set up fiery roadblocks, besieged the French and American embassies for a second day and attacked foreigners, who were warned to stay indoors.

President Laurent Gbagbo struggled to control the rebel-hating fervor that his own government had helped whip up during four months of war against insurgents.

"I ask them to go home. I ask them to go to work," Gbagbo said in a brief appeal to his supporters Monday afternoon.

Gbagbo has urged loyalists to accept the French-brokered plan reached Friday in Paris. He said it was the best deal possible since the government had proven unable to defeat rebels on the battlefield.

The accord, meant to end a war that has seen rebels seize more than half of the world's largest cocoa-producing nation, joins insurgents, government and the political opposition in a coalition government under Gbagbo until 2005 elections.

'Humiliating' plan

The rebels claim that they have been given control of the Interior and Defense ministries, a concession that would jeopardize security forces' support of the peace deal. The government hasn't confirmed that's part of the plan, though Ivory Coast's military has called the power-sharing plan "humiliating," and the protesters say the agreement yields too much to the rebels.

The armed forces' support is vital in a part of the world where the good will of the military is essential to maintaining control. Loyalists blame not Gbagbo, but France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler.

"France has killed us and killed democracy. How can we give control of our army to the rebels?" said youth leader Ble Goude, as followers chanted anti-French slogans.

Gbagbo prepared to brief the nation on the peace plan, saying Monday the televised address would come after up to two days of consultations with the military and others.

Appearing before a crowd gathered outside his residence, Gbagbo hinted that the peace agreement reached in France was not necessarily final.

What was said in France were propositions, said Gbagbo."I will not betray the youth," he pledged.

The address planned for the next couple of days is seen as crucial not just for the peace deal, but for his control of the half of the country still under government sway.

"If Gbagbo doesn't speak well to us ... , we're going to be the shepherds -- and he's going to be the sheep," said a young man carrying a chunk of wood at a civilian roadblock.

Security forces apparently did little to check Monday's protests, looking the other way as throngs of people violated a military curfew that had been strictly enforced in recent days.

Young men roamed the streets, waving makeshift weapons and charging the few foreigners who ventured outside despite urgings from embassies to stay in their homes. The loyalists manned checkpoints thrown together from burning tires and the hulks of cars.

Hundreds gathered near the U.S. and French embassies downtown to protest the peace deal and security forces fired stun grenades to break up the crowds. The protesters dispersed later Monday, after their leaders called for calm.

The U.S. Embassy closed Monday and Tuesday in what embassy officials said was a precaution following Sunday's violence. Embassy authorities said they expected any rallies there to be peaceful.

Gbagbo has appealed for calm since the violence started, cutting short his trip to the peace talks and returning home late Sunday after the mayhem erupted.

The same deal prompted dancing in the streets in Ivory Coast's rebel stronghold, the northern city of Bouake.

Rebels launched their insurgency with a Sept. 19 coup attempt. The attempt failed, but rebels quickly seized the northern half of the country and since November have taken parts of the cocoa- and coffee-rich west.

Rebels accused Gbagbo of fanning ethnic tensions in Ivory Coast. The nation had been West Africa's most stable and prosperous country until the late 1990s, when an economic downturn helped bring on a 1999 military coup. Gbagbo took power in a flawed 2000 election meant to restore civilian rule.


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