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Thousands March in Abidjan to Oppose Ivory Coast Peace Accord - 2003-01-26


Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, Sunday to protest a peace agreement that demonstrators said granted too many concessions to rebels. The French brokered accord, reached on Friday, is meant to end a four month rebellion that has killed hundreds.

By late Sunday, calm had returned to Abidjan after President Laurent Gbagbo, speaking from Paris, urged his supporters to stop rioting.

The demonstrations targeted nationals of the former colonial power, France, whom many here accuse of pressuring the Gbagbo government into conceding too much power to the rebels.

The accord among the government, insurgents, and opposition parties grants rebels and the opposition parties control of key ministries. Under the deal, President Gbagbo named Seydou Diarra as the new Prime Minister. Mr. Diarra is a Muslim from the country's north where Mr. Gbagbo, a southern Christian, enjoys little support.

The deal was ratified by African leaders at a summit in Paris on Sunday.

The demonstrations, which began on Saturday, left parts of the commercial capital devastated after bands of youths rampaged through the streets, burning cars, and looting French owned businesses.

The worst damage was in the city's central Plateau business district, where demonstrators ransacked the French cultural center and set fires at the gates of the French embassy. At the end of the day Sunday, the streets lay littered with broken glass and debris after rioters smashed store windows of a major department store, the local office of Air France, and other businesses that were visibly French.

Protesters barricaded streets throughout Abidjan with burning tires, garbage, and wrecked cars.

In parts of the city, demonstrators set up checkpoints where they sought out French expatriates who number in the tens of thousands in Ivory Coast.

Demonstrators went before the American embassy, where they called on the United States to intervene on behalf of the government to annul the accord and crush the rebellion. U.S officials did not comment on the request.

Despite the extent of the violence, there were no reports of injuries.

The embassies of France and other western nations advised their nationals to remain indoors through Monday.

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