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Pro-Gbagbo Militants Paralyze Ivory Coast Commercial Capital


Militant supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo have taken to the streets of the country's main city to protest a controversial identification process. The Gbagbo supporters, known as Young Patriots, erected barricades at key intersections, paralyzing most of the city.

The protesters, many of them young students, began sealing off the main thoroughfares of the commercial capital, Abidjan, around dawn.

Manning barricades constructed from overturned roadside market stalls, pieces of concrete, and in some cases burning tires, the supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, known as Young Patriots, had, by mid-morning, shut down almost all traffic in most of the city.

Protesters at roadblocks called the action a dead city strike.

Young Patriot leader Charles Ble Goude appeared on state-owned television Tuesday denouncing a recently begun scheme to identify millions of undocumented citizens and foreign residents ahead of presidential elections. He criticized what he called a lack of transparency in the process and called for transitional government Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny to sit down with all concerned parties for talks.

Mr. Gbagbo's supporters have, for weeks, criticized the identification project, which envisages the establishment of dozens of mobile courts across the country. They say the scheme is being used as a vehicle for election fraud.

Ble Goude is under U.N. sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze, in connection with five days of violent protests across the government-controlled south in January.

Young Patriots have attempted to disrupt the establishment of the mobile courts across the south in the past days, in some cases storming identification sites and destroying or stealing documents.

Identification has been a chief demand of the rebel New Forces in a series of peace deals dating back to early 2003.

The New Forces have controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast since civil war broke out in September 2002, following a failed coup attempt against Mr. Gbagbo.

Around 11,000 UN peacekeepers and U.N. mandated French soldiers are in Ivory Coast. Most patrol a buffer zone separating rebel fighters in the north from government forces in the south.

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