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Ivory Coast Opposition Plans March in Defiance of Government Ban - 2004-03-18


Opposition political parties in divided Ivory Coast say they will defy a presidential ban by organizing a march next week in favor of the country's stalled peace deal.

After three days of meetings, all the major Ivorian political parties except the one of President Laurent Gbagbo issued a statement late Wednesday calling for a mass protest.

A spokesman for the political parties, Cisse Bacongo, says a peaceful march will be organized next Thursday calling for the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement known as the Marcoussis accord. That is the name of the Paris suburb where it was signed in January, 2003.

Mr. Bacongo says the Ivorian constitution guarantees the right of peaceful protest, despite a ban on marches issued earlier this month by President Gbagbo.

A spokesman for the northern-based rebels who now call themselves the New Forces, Sidiki Konate, says the march will show many Ivorians want the peace deal implemented.

"This march will be important because today the majority in Ivory Coast have never gotten a chance to march," he said. "The majority of Ivorian people, the majority of Ivorian big parties want peace, want to apply Marcoussis and want to defend Marcoussis."

But Mr. Konate says he fears a sometimes violent youth group close to Mr. Gbagbo, the Young Patriots, will try to disrupt the protest.

Young Patriots met with presidential aides, saying they are planning a counter-demonstration.

Earlier this month, they attacked newly-appointed judges, saying rebels must first disarm before a national unity power-sharing government is established. The government has been forming itself very slowly since last year.

One opposition political party, the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, is currently boycotting the government because it says Mr. Gbagbo is refusing to share power. The other opposition parties and rebels are threatening to do the same by the end of next week if the situation does not improve.

The two sides also disagree on the schedule for disarmament. Mr. Gbagbo says it must be done before the peace deal can be implemented. But the rebels say the agreement must be implemented first, including giving voting rights to many of their supporters in the north, who have not been considered Ivorian citizens in the past.

The stalemate is deepening just as 6,000 U.N. soldiers are to begin deploying for peacekeeping duties in April.

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