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Ivorian Leader Urges Opposition to Rejoin Peace Talks - 2004-03-26

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo says an aborted pro-peace march which was to take place Thursday was a renewed attempt to overthrow him. Opposition leaders says his security forces killed more than 100 civilians in two days.

Late Friday on state television, Mr. Gbagbo said the aim of Thursday's protest was not a peaceful march, but what he called an insurrection by pro-rebel groups aimed at undermining state authority.

He called on opposition parties and rebel leaders now boycotting a national unity government to rejoin discussions on how to implement a stalled peace deal with the northern based rebels.

Opposition parties and rebels accuse Mr. Gbagbo of blocking the deal. It includes giving many northerners now considered immigrants the right to become Ivorians. Mr. Gbagbo first wants rebels to disarm.

The opposition grouping issued its own statement late Friday, saying Mr. Gbagbo's government is veering toward what it called fascism and dictatorship. A spokesman, Cisse Bacongo, says those killed during Thursday's attempted march are heroes of democracy. He called for an international commission to look into the security crackdown against protesters.

Security forces shot into crowds of protesters Thursday, and opposition leaders say what they call summary executions of militants continued Friday in opposition strongholds.

They say more than 100 people have now been killed since the protest was to begin. Authorities say 25 people were killed, including two policemen and many marchers who were killed by other civilians.

A spokesman for the Ivorian army, Aka Ngoran, Friday said security was being restored. He said businesses were slowly reopening and that life was returning to normal. But the opposition says it is maintaining its right to protest and that it will soon organize a new march.