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Ivory Coast's President Discusses 'Bloody Thursday' with UN Commission - 2004-04-18

The U.N. commission set up to investigate the deadly clashes between military and civilians during a pro-peace demonstration in Ivory Coast last month has met with President Laurent Gbagbo.

Ivory Coast President Gbagbo met with the four-member commission for about an hour to discuss the events of March 25, now known as "bloody Thursday".

The commission will spend two weeks in Abidjan gathering information on what led to the deaths of civilians preparing for a public demonstration to protest against President Gbagbo. The official death toll was set at 37, but opposition groups say as many as 500 were killed.

The demonstration had been scheduled in defiance of a presidential ban on public marches. Military forces patrolled the streets to enforce the ban.

An independent investigation into the events are part of the demands of the opposition parties and rebel movements in Ivory Coast in order to continue talks with President Gbagbo and continue the peace process in this divided west African nation. One member of the commission, Anahi Ginarte, a forensic expert from Argentina, says interviews will be conducted with each of the opposition parties and rebel movements. She says Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and U.N. special envoy Albert Tevoedjre had also been interviewed.

She says it is important to keep the contents of the interviews private so the commission can collect the most accurate information from all the parties involved.

Ms. Ginarte along with her colleagues from Cape Verde, Burundi, and Italy will also visit the areas where the clashes took place as well as the areas where mass graves had been reported.

A full report will be submitted to the U.N.'s acting high commissioner for Human Rights and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan by the end of this month.