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Ivorians Protest Against French Peacekeepers - 2003-12-01


Several hundred protesters in Ivory Coast have demanded the withdrawal of French peacekeepers from frontlines separating Ivorian troops and northern-based rebels. A similar plea was made Sunday on state television by a group of army officers.

The demonstrators gathered outside French military headquarters in the commercial capital, Abidjan, on Monday.

They chanted, "we are tired of war," and raised Ivorian flags.

The protesters also burned tires and threw rocks that hit fences surrounding the French barracks.

The protests follow altercations in central Ivory Coast between French troops and demonstrators who were trying to march toward the northern rebel stronghold of Bouake on Saturday and Sunday.

A leader of the protesters in Abidjan, Eugene Djue, says France, the former colonial power, should stop meddling and let Ivorians settle their own problems.

Mr. Djue says French troops are preventing the liberation of northern Ivory Coast from rebel control. He says protesters intend to stay in front of French barracks until French peacekeepers leave Ivory Coast.

Weeks of intense fighting ended in the world's leading cocoa producer late last year, following the deployment of several thousand French peacekeepers. But their presence has effectively divided Ivory Coast between the government-run south and the rebel-held north.

Rebels pulled out of a power-sharing reconciliation government in September, accusing President Laurent Gbagbo of blocking implementation of a French-brokered peace plan. The January accord includes giving voting rights to many northern Ivorians, who are now considered immigrants.

On Sunday, a group of army officers appeared live on state Ivorian television for about 10 minutes, calling for the withdrawal of French troops and the resignation of top generals within 48 hours. The officers also said they were ready to resume fighting to reunite Ivory Coast.

They said their action was not a coup because, they insisted, they support President Gbagbo. After the statement, regular programming resumed, and several tanks left the compound of the state television.

A military adviser to Mr. Gbagbo says the officers were simply expressing their frustration and their desire to reunite Ivory Coast. But he said it was an act of insubordination.

Mr. Gbagbo has called on rebels to disarm and his armed forces to be patient.

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