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Ivory Coast Protesters Target French Barracks - 2004-10-05


Supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo have been holding daily protests in front of the barracks of French troops. The protests come amid a growing lack of security in the country ahead of the scheduled start of disarmament, October 15.

Protests resumed in front of the French barracks for a third day Tuesday, with dozens of so-called Young Patriots, supporters of President Gbagbo, blocking traffic, threatening cars carrying Westerners and throwing rocks onto the French compound.

On Monday, a group of Young Patriots also blocked a convoy of French soldiers about 60 kilometers outside Abidjan. One of the protesters was slightly injured in the abdomen after a French soldier shot a rubber bullet.

A French military spokesman said French soldiers will react with proportionate force to what he called "provocations." He said tear gas has been used in Abidjan.

The Young Patriots' leader, Charles Ble Goude, says protests will take place in front of all French barracks and troop positions in the government-held southern part of Ivory Coast.

"We are fighting for democracy to be respected, that's all," he said. "We are fighting for our country. It's our way. Young people from Ivory Coast are fighting against the French people, who are really those who are attacking us."

Supporters of President Gbagbo have accused the French troops of siding with the northern-based rebels, a charge French officials have repeatedly denied.

The Young Patriots are also demanding French authorities release the names of 12 French soldiers implicated in the September robbery of a bank in the northern rebel-held city of Man.

Four-thousand troops from the former colonial power are in Ivory Coast to act as a rapid reaction force, now that more than six-thousand United Nations peacekeepers have been deployed to help end the two-year insurgency.

Despite this presence, insecurity has been growing lately in government-held areas, with reported disappearances of people close to opposition leaders, raids by security forces and allegations of increased racketeering by police.

One Liberian woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says foreigners are especially targeted, because they are viewed as rebel supporters.

"It makes one feel quite insecure and very skeptical about moving around after dark," she said. "Especially in neighborhoods where a lot of foreigners live, like around 10, 11 o'clock at night you have armed personnel breaking down doors, harassing people for other identification and or money. Most of the time, if you do have ID, you're required to give them money, so it's mainly for money."

Pro-government militias training at a social center next to a kindergarten in Abidjan also want money. Their ranks are growing as more disaffected youths are hoping to collect the several hundred dollars that will be given to them when disarmament of militias and rebel recruits takes place.

Their leader, Moussa Toure Zeguen, has threatened to march on the rebel stronghold of Bouake if the disarmament process stalls there. "We are watching what they are doing and we are showing to them also, we are more than them and ready for peace," he said.

In a message broadcast on state radio Tuesday, President Gbagbo called for calm, and for protests to end. He said disarmament, when it does eventually happen, is part of the peace process for which Ivorians owe gratitude to the international community.

Rebels and opposition politicians have accused Mr. Gbagbo of repeatedly blocking peace deals with political reforms that would give equal rights to many northerners now treated as second class citizens. The opposition and rebels say failure to implement these accords, and a lack of trust toward Mr. Gbagbo, are putting in doubt the speed at which disarmament will take place.

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