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AU Leader Joins Ivory Coast President, PM Call for End to Protest

Ivory Coast's president and prime minister, along with the head of the African Union, have called for an end of the violent demonstrations that have paralyzed the government-controlled south for several days. They urged the protesters to return to work, beginning Thursday.

In the final statement read after their meeting late Wednesday, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, and AU chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo asked protesters to leave the streets and go home.

President Obasanjo flew into Abidjan Wednesday afternoon for an emergency meeting aimed at ending the violent demonstrations that have engulfed much of the southern half of the war-divided country for three consecutive days.

Militant supporters of Mr. Gbagbo took to the streets early Monday. They were protesting the recommendation by the U.N.-backed International Working Group not to extend the mandate of Ivory Coast's parliament. The partliament, which is dominated by Gbagbo supporters, expired in December.

At the beginning of Wednesday's statement, the three leaders reaffirmed that international mediators did not have the power to dissolve parliament. They said a decision on the future of the legislative body would be made at a later date.

Protesters mainly targeted the U.N. peacekeeping mission during the violence, burning cars and laying siege to U.N. facilities across the south.

Peacekeepers shot and killed four protesters at a base in the town of Guiglo Wednesday, injuring 12 others. They were then forced to abandon Guiglo and nearby Duekoue.

The U.N. special representative in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, was also at the meeting Wednesday night. He said he was encouraged by the discussions. "We didn't want to have any violence. We haven't come here to meet violence or to do violence," he said. "We have come here to support and help the people of Cote d'Ivoire to get out of the crisis, to get jobs, to get health."

Ivory Coast has been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since civil war broke out in late 2002. Around 11,000 U.N. peacekeepers and U.N.-mandated French soldiers are in the country.