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UN to Attempt to Keep Peace in Ivory Coast - 2004-04-23


United Nations peacekeepers in Ivory Coast will try to keep the peace Saturday between opposition groups and supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo.

U.N. mission spokesman Jean-Victor Nkolo says U.N. troops will play a supporting role to maintain calm Saturday in the southern commercial capital Abidjan.

Opposition groups and rebel supporters are planning a non-denominational prayer gathering for those killed in a security crackdown against a planned march last month. The opposition claims several hundred people were killed. The government says 37 people, including several policemen, died.

Mr. Nkolo says he hopes that pro-Gbagbo groups planning counter-demonstrations will call them off.

?It is hoped that no other demonstration will take place in addition to the scheduled ceremony of prayers regarding those who were killed last month. Also that we, the forces of the United Nations and international community, can only bring a contribution to the management of security matters,? he said.

The pro-Gbagbo youth groups known as Young Patriots are vowing to hold their own protest near the prayer gathering.

At a rally in downtown Abidjan, one of their leaders, who calls himself Maitre Sahini, says Young Patriots will make sure the opposition and rebel supporters go home after they finish their memorial service. He says the Young Patriots will prevent them from marching anywhere near the presidential palace.

Another group of President Gbagbo's supporters, led by Toure Moussa Zeguen, is hoping it will be allowed to hold a meeting Saturday in the northern rebel headquarters of Bouake.

?We decided to go in Bouake to organize a meeting there as well because we realize that the rebels have the permission to have a meeting in Abidjan so we are calling up on the U.N. to do everything to help us to organize our meeting as well in Bouake,? he said.

In late March, opposition parties and rebels pulled out of a unity government, accusing President Gbagbo of becoming what they call "a brutal dictator." They also accuse him of blocking a power-sharing peace deal signed 16 months ago.

Mr. Gbagbo has called on rebels to disarm immediately and liberate the north. He says the protest in March was a renewed attempt to overthrow him.

Several thousand French soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers are deployed along front lines effectively dividing Ivory Coast in two.

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