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Demonstrations in Ivory Coast Against French-Brokered Peace Deal - 2003-01-26

In Ivory Coast, hundreds of angry demonstrators took to the streets of the main city, Abidjan, late Saturday to protest a French-brokered peace agreement that is meant to end the country's four-month-old rebel war.

The demonstrators, some armed with sticks, stones, and machetes, marched in several districts across Abidjan shouting anti-French slogans in anger over the new peace deal. The demonstrations began after Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, speaking from Paris, announced he had accepted an arrangement for a new reconciliation government and had named a new Prime Minister.

The measures are part of the terms of a peace deal agreed to in France by the Ivory Coast government, the opposition, and rebels who have been waging a war that started four months ago. The agreement, reached after more than a week of negotiations, is to be ratified by leaders of African nations in France on Sunday.

The demonstrators late Saturday directed their anger at France, the former colonial power. They accused the French, who have large economic interests in Ivory Coast, of pressuring the Ivorian government into accepting an arrangement that includes giving some portfolios to the rebels.

Many people in Abidjan resent the insurgents for starting a conflict that has killed hundreds, displaced thousands, and left many jobless in a country that was until recently considered the most stable and prosperous in West Africa.

The protesters, most of them young people, marched in defiance of a nighttime curfew and threatened to attack French nationals. They ransacked a French school in the city's posh Cocody district. Another group demonstrated in front of a permanent military base that France maintains in the outskirts of Abidjan.

Security forces fired into the air using machine guns and other weapons in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Gunfire could be heard in parts of the city through early Sunday.