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Ivory Coast Youth Leader Calls for Calm after Two Days of Violence


A militant youth leader in Ivory Coast has called on his followers to end their protest against a proposal to dissolve the pro-president parliament. The recommendation by a U.N.-sponsored panel sparked two days of violent protest in the country's commercial capital, Abidjan.

In an address broadcast late Monday on Ivorian state television, Serge Koffi, leader of the student union that is in the forefront of the protests, said his supporters had decided to end them.

"We've agreed to leave the streets, because of a decree by the government that banned protests," he said.

Demonstrations in Abidjan were declared illegal shortly after anti-French rioting forced the emergency evacuation of around 8,000 foreign residents in November 2004. Authorities have renewed the ban every six months since then.

The student union (FESCI) supports President Laurent Gbagbo and the ban has not always prevented student union members from demonstrating their support in the streets, sometimes violently.

On Sunday, more than 100 pro-Gbagbo militants attempted to march to a heavily guarded hotel where members of the U.N.-created International Working Group on Ivory Coast were meeting. They were turned back by security forces, but several U.N. vehicles were attacked throughout the day in Abidjan.

At the meeting, the working group said it agreed not to recommend renewing the mandate of Ivory Coast's National Assembly, which expired in December. The assembly is dominated by supporters of the president.

Student union leader Koffi said his group's decision to erect barricades and block major intersections Monday morning was a protest against the working group's recommendation.

"Our actions were a strong signal to the international community that the International Working Group had gone too far," he said.

He thanked his supporters and called on them to behave peacefully.

The International Working Group, which is composed of representatives from the international community, lender institutions, and the United Nations was created by a Security Council resolution.

The body is charged with supervising the implementation of a U.N.-backed peace plan that is intended to pave the way for elections some time later this year.

Ivory Coast is divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since the outbreak of civil war in late 2002. Around 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers and U.N.-mandated French soldiers are in the country.

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