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Female Supporters of Ivory Coast President Protest at UN Headquarters - 2004-05-21


A group of women supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo protested outside of the United Nations headquarters in Abidjan Friday, despite an appeal by the U.N. Secretary-General to Mr. Gbagbo to stop the demonstration.

Hundreds of women gathered near the entrance to the U.N. compound in Abidjan, known as ONUCI, to demand the disarmament of rebels in the divided west African nation.

The women, who were blowing whistles and beating drums, carried signs that said, "We are tired. Start disarmament."

On Thursday, the U.N. special representative in Ivory Coast, Albert Tevoedjre, sent an appeal to President Laurent Gbagbo requesting the Ivorian government intervene to stop the demonstrations organized by his supporters.

The letter, written on behalf of Secretary General Kofi Annan, said the government had a legal responsibility to protect the U.N. interests and property in Abidjan.

The government deployed nearly 200 police and national security officers to protect the headquarters.

One of the leaders and organizers of the women's march, Bro Gregbe, said that the United Nations is in Ivory Coast only to carry out the disarmament of the rebel factions, who attempted to overthrow President Gbagbo in September 2002.

?We are here to tell the U.N. that they came here just for one thing, to take the weapons out of the rebels [hands],? he said. ?That's why they are here. It seems they don't know why they are here, so we came to tell them.?

Ms. Gregbe said that the U.N. must begin the disarmament campaign by the end of May or the organizations aligned with President Gbagbo will begin the process themselves.

?We are going to put pressure on the international community to say that we are fed up,? she added. ?We need peace. We need peace today. We need peace for our development. Women need peace. The only one thing that will bring peace in Cote d'Ivoire [Ivory Coast] is disarmament.?

Anti-U.N. protests by Gbagbo supporters followed the release of a U.N. report blaming Ivory Coast's highest authorities for directing savage attacks on opposition demonstrators in a late March protest, in which, the report said, 120 people died. The U.N. Security Council last week condemned the government for human rights violations.

The demonstrators were demanding the implementation of a 15-month-old peace agreement between rebels in the north and government loyalists, aimed at ending violence and setting up a transitional government.

Earlier this week, President Gbagbo fired three rebel opposition ministers from the transitional Cabinet, a move the rebels said killed the French-brokered peace agreement.

U.N. Secretary-General Annan has appealed to all sides to continue talks and maintain the established reconciliation government in order to continue the peace process.

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