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Ivory Coast President Under Pressure to Annul Peace Deal - 2003-01-29

In Ivory Coast, public pressure is mounting on President Laurent Gbagbo to annul a peace accord reached with the rebels who control half of the country.

Tensions mounted in Abidjan as people waited for the Ivorian leader to give a speech late Wednesday, in which he is expected to explain why he accepted the accord.

The agreement, reached in France, among the Ivory Coast government, the rebels and opposition parties, grants key government positions to the rebels.

The accord has sparked massive protests over the past four days in which youths have rampaged through the streets of Abidjan, leaving parts of the city devastated. The demonstrators say they believe the arrangement grants too much power to the insurgents, who have led a four-month insurrection that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

The rebellion began last September, when rebels staged a failed coup attempt against the president.

On Tuesday, senior army officers told President Gbagbo they reject the accord because they do not want any rebels in the government.

President Gbagbo sought to calm the demonstrators earlier by telling them the agreement signed in France was merely a set of proposals. But the rioting continued.

In addition, anger over the accord sparked ethnic clashes on Monday and Tuesday in the southern town of Agboville.

Witnesses say least six people were killed, and more than 30 wounded in the clashes. The fighting began when members of the ethnic Abbey group, who are Christians and natives of the Agboville region, attacked Dioula-speaking Muslims who are originally from rebel strongholds in the north of Ivory Coast.

Abbeys said they were angry that the President appointed a new prime minister as part of the accord. The new prime minister is Seydou Diarra, a Muslim northerner.

A Muslim leader in the town, Imam Sirima Konate, told VOA several places of worship were destroyed in the fighting.

The Imam says the Abbeys burned several mosques in the town. Dioula youth, he said, went on to burn a number of churches.

Meanwhile, anger remained high against the French, who demonstrators here in Abidjan accuse of pressuring Mr. Gbagbo into signing the accord.

Most French nationals, who number in the tens of thousands in Ivory Coast, remained in their homes, awaiting instructions from the French embassy for a possible evacuation. But employees of several French companies and their families gathered at an airport hotel Wednesday to await an evacuation flight.

The French army, whose peacekeeping force of 2,500 has over the past four months prevented a rebel incursion into Abidjan, says it has no plans to bring in reinforcements.

A French army spokesman on Wednesday said troops in Abidjan had yet to receive instructions on an evacuation.