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Ivory Coast Prepares for Weekend of Rallies, Crucial Decisions


Residents in the main city Abidjan in divided Ivory Coast are nervously awaiting rival rallies as well as important decisions this weekend, marking the end of the elected term of President Laurent Gbagbo. The United Nations has given him one more year to prepare elections and disarm fighting forces.

Opposition youth militants will gather Sunday at a stadium in Abidjan. The official reason given for their rally will be the qualification of the national Ivory Coast team to next year's World Cup in Germany.

But one militant told VOA the real reason will be to prepare for future street protests. "I'm speaking but not giving you really the action we are going to do because it will be a very decisive action that we are going to do, so we have to boil it with time. If you want us to be direct, let me tell you we are going to invite people for street demonstrations," he said.

Another opposition youth militant says they will protest so that Mr. Gbagbo leave power after his elected term ends Sunday. "I think it is a must for Laurent Gbagbo to go, but we would like to have freedom without Cote d'Ivoire army and police and demonstrate our force until he goes. He must go," the youth added.

Militants have asked for the protection of the United Nations, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said street demonstrations in Ivory Coast are ill advised.

Mr. Gbagbo made clear this week the ban on marches is still in effect. More than 120 people were killed in March 2004, many of them in their homes, when the only march was organized by the opposition during Mr. Gbagbo's presidency.

But Sunday, youth groups close to Mr. Gbagbo, known as the Young Patriots, will also hold a rally in another stadium of Abidjan. Rival supporters will probably have to cross each other by foot going to rival rallies on the city's bridges.

A pro-Gbagbo militia leader in Abidjan, Jeff Agba, says he doesn't believe it's a good idea for anyone to hold rallies, including the Young Patriots, led by their leader, Charles Ble Goude. "It's not things about meeting at the time," said Mr. Agba. "It's all about peace. Ble Goude and all of the people they have to stop. We are not united. We want to put all Ivorians behind political things like a good future so we don't need know to separate or do things to attack any other people. We don't need that so we told him to stop."

He says his militias have yet to be approached about disarming.

Meanwhile, three African presidents are expected in Abidjan, possibly Saturday, to help the warring sides select a prime minister with greater powers, as indicated in the last U.N. Security Council resolution on Ivory Coast.

A leading member of the opposition, Claude Ahobaut, tells VOA it will be crucial the new prime minister can exercise real power. He says unless the prime minister can select his own government, especially the ministers of defense and security, there will be no disarmament.

Northern rebels who have held on to more than half of Ivory Coast for three years have been angered by the last resolution, saying Mr. Gbagbo should never have been allowed to stay on, saying he can't be trusted to help organize free and fair elections.

The rebels say they are fighting for northerners who are denied nationality and voting rights, and successive peace deals have yet to put in effect changes that would correct this.

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