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Ivory Coast President Bans Marches

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has banned all public protests for several months, as he tries to move forward the divided country's stalled peace process.

A presidential spokesman Friday said all demonstrations would be banned until March 10.

The announcement came as supporters of Mr. Gbagbo, known as the Young Patriots, were planning to hold a massive protest Saturday, calling on French peacekeepers to leave. Instead, they said they would hold a small concert.

Anti-French protests and rioting by supporters of Mr. Gbagbo in November gutted hundreds of foreign-owned businesses and homes, leading to an exodus of more than 10,000 foreigners. The Young Patriots have accused French soldiers of favoring northern-based rebels, an accusation officials from the former colonial power have repeatedly denied.

Meanwhile, efforts resumed to push forward reforms included in the stalled two-year-old French-brokered power-sharing peace deal.

A parliamentary spokesman for Mr. Gbagbo's party, Taka Keke, says lawmakers will soon approve, without any changes, a proposal easing requirements for presidential candidates, a key rebel demand.

But Mr. Keke and Mr. Gbagbo's party intend to have the reform submitted to a referendum before it can become law.

Rebels and some opposition parties say it should be passed without any changes. They have also accused lawmakers from Mr. Gbagbo's party of making drastic changes to other reforms included in the peace deal.

The goal of the accord is to give equal rights to northerners, so that free and fair elections can be organized in 2005.

One of the early candidates is the Ivorian governor of the West African CFA Franc central bank, Charles Konan Banny. His lobbyist, Marcel Kouao, announced his candidacy this week in Abidjan.

"It's a matter of life or death because we are at the cross of the roads, and we have been betrayed by others, and now it's time for new blood to come and transform the political society, and we think the only person who can do that is Charles Konan Banny," he said.

But the rebels are supposed to disarm before any election, and they have refused to do, saying they don't trust Mr. Gbagbo will effectively implement the peace deal.