In Ivory Coast, opposition and rebel ministers have boycotted a cabinet meeting after vowing to suspend their participation in the national unity government until a prime minister with reinforced powers is selected. Meanwhile, President Laurent Gbagbo has announced that any street protests in coming days would break an existing ban on public demonstrations. His statement comes as his five-year term expires.
Armored vehicles and pickups mounted with heavy guns were patrolling the streets of Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, Thursday. Soldiers temporarily closed the two main bridges straddling the lagoon that divides the city.
A government army helicopter crisscrossed the skies above the business district, increasing fears among many city residents of possible violence in the days to come.
The military maneuvers, which were announced by the government on state radio, come one day after President Laurent Gbagbo reaffirmed that a ban on street demonstrations in Abidjan remained in effect.
In a speech broadcast on state-owned television, Mr. Gbagbo told a gathering of hundreds of police and security forces that the people needed to understand that nothing would happen on October 30, the original date set for elections now long since abandoned.
He encouraged people to go to work, live their lives normally, and even continue to dance and go to nightclubs.
A leader of one of the parties in opposition, Claude Ahobaut, told VOA he is not surprised by the president's decision to reinforce the army's presence on city streets.
It's always the same scenario, he says. President Gbagbo is trying to muzzle the opposition, he says, and assure that no one acts against him.
Opposition youth leaders had announced plans to take to the streets over the weekend to call for Mr. Gbagbo to step down. The president's term in office ended Wednesday, but a U.N. Security Council resolution gives him up to 12 additional months to organize polls.
The resolution also calls for a new prime minister to be named.
At a cabinet meeting of Ivory Coast's reconciliation government Thursday, ministers representing the opposition bloc and the New Forces rebels were absent. Earlier this week opposition leaders had called upon them to suspend their activities in the government.
They say the prime minister must come from their own ranks. And they say he must be given increased powers.