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Ivory Coast President Consults Youths on New Peace Deal

Laurent Gbagbo
Thousands of youth supporters in Ivory Coast have expressed their views on the latest peace deal signed in South Africa to the country's president. This was the first in a series of public consultations that President Laurent Gbagbo is holding. Opposition youth groups say they were not invited and they fear such meetings could derail the peace process.

Thousands of Ivorian youths listened to patriotic songs with lyrics such as victory is close as they filed in line to enter the presidency Monday.

Inside the compound, President Gbagbo said he would only speak about the Pretoria accord until he has consulted with all groups of society, ending with a meeting with soldiers next month.

Mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki has asked Mr. Gbagbo to use all his constitutional powers to allow all parties to the accord choose their candidate of choice for elections in October 2005.

Northern rebels have demanded guarantees that popular opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who has been barred from recent elections, is allowed to participate until they begin disarming. A new schedule has the disarmament process starting next month.

As the first speaker presented his views, Gbagbo supporters behind him chanted saying they would never allow Mr. Ouattara to run.

The speaker, Idriss Ouattara, no relation to the opposition leader, said youth groups would always be behind Mr. Gbagbo and that if Mr. Ouattara's candidacy for the party known as RDR was an ultimate sacrifice they would have to accept it.

But he added, rebels should disarm immediately, peacekeepers from the former colonial power France should leave, the national electoral commission should remain under the authority of Ivorian officials and that nationality laws should not be changed radically.

Mr. Gbagbo, who wore sunglasses, took notes, smiled and laughed during the different speeches by ethnic youth groups, as well as student and civil society leaders, known collectively as Young Patriots.

Another Gbagbo supporter explained in English they are very angry, but that they might have to accept the peace deal.

"We Ivorians have to defend, we defend the president, we defend the country. We do what we can to defend our country we hear that the president of the RDR party is candidate in our country," he said. "We do not like him in our country, we do not like him, but we are obliged to accept, we are obliged."

Youth groups from the north and opposition were not invited. One of them, Ali Ouattara, also no relation to the controversial opposition candidate, said he was scared Mr. Gbagbo would use the consultations to justify not pushing forward the peace deal.

"I do not think it is useful to assist to this kind of consultations because it is not useful," said Mr. Ouattara. "It is not useful because everything has been said in South Africa as far as Pretoria consultations. After these consultations, I am scared of not applying Pretoria decisions. That is my preoccupation."

The public meeting was broadcast live on state television, angering opposition youths who called the event a staged farce.

Previous peace deals were not implemented, and were often greeted by violent street protests by the same youth groups.