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Ivory Coast President Postpones Speech on Peace Accord - 2003-01-29


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has put off a speech in which he was expected to explain to the nation why he accepted a peace agreement to end a four month rebel war in the West African country. Anger over the accord sparked violent protests recently by some who said it granted too many concessions to the rebels.

President Gbagbo postponed his speech as pressure continued to mount for him to cancel the agreement among the government, rebels, and opposition parties. The Ivorian leader spent the day Wednesday meeting with civil society groups, who all urged him to annul the accord.

The agreement, brokered by the French, touched off four days of violent demonstrations by youths and others here who said it gave too much power to the rebels. The demonstrators directed their anger at France, which they accused of pressuring Mr. Gbagbo into accepting the agreement. No protests took place on Wednesday. Organizers said they would wait for Mr. Gbagbo's speech before deciding whether to take to the streets again.

Several political parties on Wednesday joined in calling on Mr. Gbagbo not to grant key ministries to the rebels as outlined in an agreement that was ratified by African heads of state Sunday at a summit in Paris. President Gbagbo publicly accepted the accord on Saturday.

Rebels said the deal reached in France grants them the key ministries of defense and the interior. But officials of several political parties who were part of the negotiations outside Paris on Wednesday said these elements of the accord were added at the last minute without their knowledge or approval.

The army had come out against the accord on Tuesday, with senior officers saying they do not want any rebels in the government.

One major political party not objecting to the agreement was the Rally of the Republicans, which has much of its base of support in the rebel-held north.

Rebels with the main northern-based insurgent group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, told VOA they have put their forces on alert in anticipation of what they say might be imminent attacks by government forces.

France, the former colonial power and the largest foreign investor in Ivory Coast, has called on Mr. Gbagbo to implement the agreement. A French peacekeeping force of 2,500 soldiers has prevented insurgents from approaching the main city since hostilities began in September.

With anti-French sentiment growing in Abidjan, the French government on Wednesday said it was ready to start evacuating its nationals. Private French companies began flying out the families of employees on Wednesday.

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