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Gbagbo Under Pressure to Reject French-Brokered Accord - 2003-01-28

Hundreds of demonstrators marched throught the streets of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, Tuesday for a fourth day to protest the peace accord reached last week with rebel groups. The French-brokered agreement seeks to end a four-month rebellion by creating a power-sharing arrangement between the rebels and the government. But pressure is growing on President Laurent Gbagbo not to abide by the accord.

Tuesday's demonstrations were centered outside the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan.

Hundreds of people gathered near the embassy, waving American flags and chanting pro-U.S. and anti-French slogans.

Demonstrators called on the United States to intervene to annul the French-brokered accord. Many here believe French mediators pressured the Gbagbo government to make too many concessions to the rebels.

One demonstrator, wearing war paint on his face, said he wants the United States to help Ivory Coast cancel the accord and smash the rebellion. He said Ivorians are faced with the same kind of terrorism that hit the United States on September 11. He accuses French President Jacques Chirac, who helped forge the peace accord, of supporting the rebels, who some people here consider terrorists.

U.S. embassy officials did not comment on the demonstrators' demands. Last week, the U.S. State Department welcomed the Ivory Coast peace agreement, and called for it to be implemented in good faith.

The agreement reached in France grants key government positions to rebels and opposition parties, and it reduces the power of the president. Under the terms of the accord, President Gbagbo named a new Prime Minister who is not from his party.

Tuesday's demonstrations took place despite calls by President Gbagbo on Monday for the protesters to get off the streets and return to their jobs. The Ivorian leader sought calm the protesters with a brief statement on television downplaying the agreement, calling it merely a set of proposals.

The president is due to deliver a speech to the nation soon, perhaps Wednesday night. He is expected to explain why he accepted the accord.

This demonstrator said he would keep protesting until Mr. Gbagbo said outright that he will not abide by the terms of the agreement.

The man said if President Gbagbo does not change his mind about the agreement, he will continue to march until the president reverses his position. The man said it is young people, like himself, who voted for Mr. Gbagbo and swept him to power more than two years ago. He said he will not accept the arrangement he believes France is trying to impose on Ivory Coast.

Four days of demonstrations have left parts of Abidjan devastated. Since Saturday, bands of youths have rampaged in the streets, smashing windows and looting French-owned businesses and institutions.

In the course of the demonstrations, soldiers and paramilitary police have largely stood by, doing nothing to stop the violence. Soldiers interviewed on the streets said they themselves do not approve of what some referred to as a humiliating agreement.

Abidjan remained largely paralyzed on Tuesday, as most businesses stayed closed. Foreign airlines continued to cancel flights to the city.