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Tensions Rise in Ivory Coast Following Attacks


Tensions are high in Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, where youths loyal to the president and opposition militants have come out onto the streets. This follows a series of attacks by unknown gunmen on police stations and a prison over the weekend in the south of the war divided country.

A group of several hundred student militants, some carrying metal bars or sticks, stood in a parking lot listening to one of their leaders give a speech against Ivory Coast's opposition parties.

Earlier, the young men who said they are supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo broke up a meeting of opposition youths at the headquarters of the country's former ruling party, across the street from the parking lot.

"We should let him govern," said Herve Sessia, a second-year English student at a nearby university. "But when we see some associations trying to impede his power, it is inconceivable. I do not agree. I will not ever agree. That is the reason for our presence here this morning."

The atmosphere in Ivory Coast has been tense since Saturday night, when armed men began attacks on police stations and a prison in the south.

The country has been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since a civil war broke out nearly three years ago. But the rebels, known as the New Forces, have denied involvement in the attacks in government-controlled territory.

At a rally Monday in the commercial capital, Abidjan, the main militant movement supporting President Gbagbo accused the political opposition of being behind the attacks.

Opposition leaders say they had nothing to do with the raids. They say the charge is politically motivated, as Ivory Coast prepares for presidential elections scheduled for October. They say they plan to hold public demonstrations against what they call the aggression of pro-Gbagbo militants.

At the headquarters of one of the main opposition parties, known by its French acronym RDR, Oumar Diarrassoumba is one of about 20 young standing guard.

The RDRs offices were sacked and burned last November by supporters of President Gbagbo. Mr. Diarrassoumba says the men are there to ensure the same does not happen again.

"We are here to have one mission," he said. "It is to make security for our office. All the time partisans of Gbagbo have come to put a fire, to take people."

Meanwhile, U.N. peacekeepers were stopped for a third straight day by local villagers Tuesday as they tried to reach the city of Agboville, the scene of one of the attacks Sunday morning. Ivorian army forces have occupied the city since Sunday afternoon.

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