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Abidjan Remains Under Heavy Military Guard, After Violent Protests - 2004-03-26


The largest city in Ivory Coast, Abidjan, is under heavy military guard, after at least 25 people were killed during an aborted opposition protest Thursday.

The Ivorian army set up more barricades throughout Abidjan Friday, stopping the few motorists who tried to get around.

But without taxis, public transportation or any gasoline being sold, most people stayed home or walked around, while businesses and schools remained closed.

At the headquarters of the former ruling party, known as the PDCI, hundreds of militants staged a sit-in. They vowed to stay inside the compound until they can resume their demonstration in favor of the peace accord with northern-based rebels. Outside, dozens of soldiers discreetly stood guard.

The peace agreement was signed 14 months ago, but remains largely unfulfilled.

One party member, who wishes to remain unidentified, says authorities tried to bribe him to leave the compound, and offered him an escort to his home.

The opposition party member says he refused because he thought it was a set-up to have him killed or arrested.

In the poor neighborhood of Abobo, where two policemen were killed during the attempted march, security forces fired in the air to disperse civilians who were congregating.

Residents say that overnight police raided houses and arrested hundreds of suspected militants.

An army spokesman, Aka Ngoran, said on state radio the armed forces will not tolerate any more civil disobedience.

State television said 25 people were killed during Thursday's march, which one journalist described as urban guerrilla warfare.

Opposition leaders who organized the march accused security forces of killing up to 40 people.

Rebel leaders reacted by pulling out of a national unity government saying President Laurent Gbagbo was turning into a dictator. Three other parties also pulled out, joining a boycott led by the PDCI, which withdrew earlier this month.

All these parties accuse Mr. Gbagbo of blocking implementation of the peace deal. It includes giving many immigrants the right to become Ivorians, and they would likely vote against the president. Mr. Gbagbo says the rebels must disarm before the accord can be fully implemented.

Mr. Gbagbo's party, which is one of just two in the government, released a statement Thursday saying security forces had successfully warded off what it called an armed insurrection.

One journalist, Ibrahim Kone, whose colleague, a photojournalist, was taken away by police Thursday, says the crackdown shows the peace deal signed in the Paris suburb of Marcoussis is finished.

"Marcoussis is dead because the president doesn't want to apply Marcoussis," he said. "This is the result."

But opposition parties say implementation of the peace deal is the only way to reunite Ivory Coast and that they will soon organize another march to call for its full implementation.

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