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Ivory Coast Protesters Blame French for Recent Rebel Attack - 2004-06-10


Protesters in Ivory Coast have gathered in front of the headquarters of French peacekeeping soldiers, blaming them for a recent rebel attack into a government-controlled area.

Hundreds of demonstrators from the group called Young Patriots braved heavy rains to gather in front of French barracks in Abidjan Thursday, demanding French troops do a better job of securing the cease-fire line in central Ivory Coast.

They also carried coffins with the inscription, Marcoussis, the name of the Paris suburb where the stalled power-sharing peace deal was signed in January of last year.

Protest organizers said they had asked police to ensure security during the protest, eliciting anger from some of the protesters, who had bricks in their hands.

But the main organizer, Charles Ble Goude, says they are intent on intimidating French and U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, as long as they don't disarm the northern-based rebels.

?After the attack of one town of our country, the cease-fire has been violated by the rebels. So the Young Patriots condemn those actions of violence. Now we forbid the French forces to circulate in this city,? he said.

Young Patriots have distributed lists of places where French soldiers go out at night. On Monday, protesters burned 30 vehicles belonging to the United Nations, and attacked the cars of dozens of French foreigners trying to get home from work.

The protests have been in reaction to what the army says was a rebel attack early Monday, despite the presence of French and U.N. troops on the cease-fire line.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission and the French rapid reaction force say so-called uncontrolled elements from the north slipped through the confidence zone unarmed, before arming themselves, once they were on the government side. The assailants, who the rebels themselves have called dissident members, briefly took over the central town of Gohitafla before being gunned down, captured or chased out.

The Ivorian army then responded by sending several helicopter gunships into rebel-held territory, firing on a group of rebels and injuring at least five of them. The rebels claim the Ivorian helicopters were preceded by French helicopters.

Spokesman Sidiki Konate says President Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters are trying to provoke renewed fighting, which ended with the signing of the cease-fire a year ago.

?The partisans of Mr. Gbagbo, and Mr. Gbagbo himself are talking about war, war, war, and we think Ivory Coast is now in a crazy situation. I think it can be a tactic or a strategy of the war partisans in Ivory Coast,? Mr. Konate said.

The recent unrest broke out just as Mr. Gbagbo headed for a scheduled 10-day visit to the United States, where he has been heckled several times by Ivorian protesters who favor the rebels.

Meanwhile, during the president's absence from Abidjan, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra held a meeting at his private residence Thursday, trying to convince opposition and rebel leaders to rejoin the beleaguered power-sharing government.

The opposition and rebels have been boycotting the government since March, accusing Mr. Gbagbo of turning into a dictator and brutally suppressing an opposition march. Mr. Gbagbo says rebels must disarm immediately, as he believes there are still efforts underway to overthrow him.

Rebels launched their insurgency in September 2002, saying they are fighting to give equal rights to many northerners now treated as foreigners.

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