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Thousands of Women Demonstrate Against Ivory Coast Peace Deal - 2003-02-03

An agreement to end Ivory Coast's rebel war appears closer to collapse as thousands of women marched in Abidjan. The women, who marched peacefully, called for President Laurent Gbagbo to back out of the French-mediated agreement.

Unlike other demonstrations of recent days in which protesters looted shops and threatened foreigners, this march by women supporters of the government was peaceful.

The women chanted anti-French slogans as they marched into central Abidjan and surrounded the French Embassy, demanding the cancellation of a peace accord reached outside Paris on January 24.

The demonstrators accuse France of mediating a deal that favors the rebels by giving them key positions in the government, a prospect that has drawn objections from Ivory Coast's army and most political parties.

One demonstrator, a 50-year-old mother of 12, wearing war paint and a paper hat with the national colors of Ivory Coast, said she believes France forced President Gbagbo to sign an accord that many Ivorians do not agree with.

She said she believes President Gbagbo signed because he had no choice. She said the opinions of people like herself were not taken into account.

The demonstrators tried to approach the nearby U.S. embassy. They called for the United States to intervene and help the government draw up a new accord. Embassy officials did not comment.

The White House last week urged President Gbagbo to implement the agreement immediately in order to return peace to Ivory Coast.

The war, which began with a failed coup attempt on September 19, has killed hundreds and left half of the country under rebel control. It has also threatened the massive foreign investments of France, the former colonial power.

The French government on Sunday renewed its appeal for the accord to be implemented.

Tensions remained high in Abidjan after government opponents staged a brief, but violent, demonstration Sunday over the killing of a television celebrity who was a known opposition supporter.

Rebels of the main northern-based Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, warn they may renew their attacks if the accord is not implemented.

At a rally Sunday in the northern rebel-held town of Korhogo, the group's leader, Guillaume Soro, told supporters rebels are prepared to topple the Gbagbo government in a matter of 48 hours. French troops are blocking their way to Abidjan.

A rebel spokesman says the group has called for a meeting Thursday with two other insurgent factions in the rebel-held city of Man to discuss what action they will take if the agreement collapses.