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Ivorians Protest Civil War - 2003-01-18


Thousands of people took to the streets in Ivory Coast Saturday, demanding an end to a rebel war that has killed hundreds.

Rallies were held in the main city, Abidjan, and in the rebel-held city of Bouake, in the center of Ivory Coast.

In Abidjan, they marched in support of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. In Bouake, they marched against him, and demanded his resignation.

The marches took place as rebels, the government and political parties hold peace talks in France. The talks, brokered by the French government, seek common ground between three factions of rebels and the Gbagbo government.

The insurgents want Mr. Gbagbo to resign and new elections be held. Mr. Gbagbo, who is not attending the talks, insists he will not step down, and is demanding that the rebels disarm immediately.

All sides face a January 24 deadline to sign a peace deal.

25-year-old Narcise Kouame, a pro-government demonstrator, wearing a cap with the Ivorian national colors of green, white, and orange, was among thousands gathering in central Abidjan's Place de la Republique Saturday.

He said he turned out to pressure those who are brokering the negotiations in Paris, that any agreement should be one that takes into account what all the people of Ivory Coast want.

Mr. Kouame said, he for one, would not accept any agreement that would include President Gbagbo's resignation.

The conflict in Ivory Coast began with a failed coup attempt in September. Since then, three factions of rebels have taken over the north and west of the country, leaving only the south under the control of the government.

France, the former colonial power in what is the world's largest cocoa producer, has more than 2,000 peacekeeping troops deployed along rebel lines. The French troops are here to protect the estimated 20,000 French nationals who live in Ivory Coast, and prevent a rebel advance on Abidjan.

A contingent of about 170 Senegalese troops arrived in Ivory Coast Saturday to join a West African peacekeeping force that is setting up to help the French enforce a cease-fire.

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