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Ivory Coast Protesters Riot as War Resumes

Hundreds of protesters in the Ivory Coast commercial capital, Abidjan, have gone on a rampage, after the military resumed attacks on rebel positions ending months of stalled peace negotiations.

Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, known as Young Patriots, have burned several opposition newspaper buildings, blocked access to the airport, and attacked the national disarmament headquarters in Abidjan.

They also burned at least one U.N. vehicle and looted the entrance of the Golf Hotel where rebel leaders have stayed.

The rampage followed at least three aerial bombardments by the military on rebel positions in their northern stronghold of Bouake. Rebels said more than 30 people were injured, including 12 civilians, but that their top leaders are not in Bouake.

Rebels also said another northern city Korhogo was bombarded late Thursday. Troop movements could be observed on both sides of the front line, and both the military and rebels took over cars owned by non-governmental organizations.

At military headquarters in Abidjan, the head of the armed forces, Mathias Doue, told a gathering of Young Patriots the attacks were aimed at safeguarding national integrity.

He said it was a day of glory, because in his words, it was a day for justice. He said the sun would shine on Patriots, while darkness, in his words, would set on the rebels.

The attacks end a nearly two-year-old cease-fire, which had been assured by French and U.N. peacekeepers.

One of the Young Patriots, Rigobert Eninao, says he is overjoyed, because he believes this will force the rebels to disarm, something they have failed to do, despite signing repeated peace deals since January 2003.

"I am very very happy," he said. "I cannot describe the state I am in right now. I was sure that this will happen some day because truth always takes over. I am very happy, I am not surprised. The struggle, the situation we are going through now is we have the thirst of liberty, the true liberty."

Rebels were not available for comment late. But earlier in the day, they said the attacks were a declaration of war. Many phone lines to northern areas were cut off, as well as water and electricity.

Rebels have accused Mr. Gbagbo of blocking implementation of political reforms in the repeated peace deals which would give equal rights to many northerners now treated as foreigners.

Politicians close to Mr. Gbagbo said they were working on forming a new government to replace the barely functioning U.N.-backed national unity government, which includes rebels and opposition leaders.

Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has been cut in two since fighting broke out in September 2002. French and U.N. officials have not commented on what the more than 10,000 peacekeepers intend to do.