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'War Could Resume at Any Time in Ivory Coast,' says President Gbagbo - 2003-12-02


The president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, says he understands young militants and army officers calling for renewed fighting against rebels controlling half the country. His comments came as protesters attacked the headquarters of French peacekeepers for a second day.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Mr. Gbagbo says war could resume at any time in Ivory Coast.

The president says he and his supporters are frustrated that northern-based rebels are refusing to disarm. He also called a French-brokered peace deal a bad solution, but he conceded there were no other options.

But Mr. Gbagbo said the presence of French troops was necessary for peace in Ivory Coast, a former French colony.

On Tuesday, several hundred of Mr. Gbagbo's supporters, some of them wearing hoods, threw stones and burned tires in front of French military headquarters in the southern commercial capital, Abidjan.

French soldiers and Ivorian police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

But one of the demonstrators, Vincent Dibe, says the protesters will be back until French peacekeepers clear the country's front line.

Mr. Dibe says French troops must give way to soldiers who want to resume fighting against the rebels.

The deployment of several thousand French peacekeepers late last year ended fighting, but divided Ivory Coast in two.

On Sunday in Abidjan, a group of some 20 army officers took over Ivorian television for a few minutes, demanding French soldiers leave the front lines so they could attack rebels and reunite Ivory Coast.

Rebels have refused to disarm and pulled out of a power-sharing government in September, accusing Mr. Gbagbo of failing to implement the French-brokered January peace accord. It includes giving voting rights to many northerners, now considered immigrants.

Rebels say they are waiting to see how events unfold in Abidjan to determine whether they will return to the power-sharing government.

Their insurgency, which started in September 2002, has led to growing poverty and rising unemployment both in rebel-controlled northern areas and in the government-run south.

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