Thousands protest against rebels controlling half of Ivory Coas

Friday, October 3, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators surged into Ivory Coast's commercial center Thursday for the largest pro-government rally in months, a sign of increasing tensions over a stalled power-sharing agreement with rebels.

Authorities closed highways leading into the skyscraper-lined downtown, allowing a crowd of apparently more than 70,000 to flow into a central square for a rally against rebels, who have divided the West African country.

"We don't want the rebels. We're tired of rebels," said one protester, Pipo N'Zagi, whose skin was smeared with traditional mud-colored paint.

Shopkeepers closed stores downtown ahead of the rally, fearing repeats of past violence by pro-government youth groups.

Security forces stood by with automatic weapons, clubs, whips and ropes to prevent violence among demonstrators draped in the orange, white and green of Ivory Coast's flag.

The rally signaled rising tensions over the stalled power-sharing deal that helped end a nine-month civil war.

It was held on the one-year anniversary of a massive pro-government demonstration.

Civil war erupted in September 2002 with a failed coup against President Laurent Gbagbo. The war killed more than 3,000 people and displaced about 1 million people.

The power-sharing deal, brokered by France in January, helped end fighting in the world's largest cocoa producer but left the former French colony still divided between the rebel north and government-controlled south.

Rebels have suspended participation in the power-sharing administration, accusing Gbagbo of failing to consult with them on key Cabinet appointments.

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