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Ivory Coast Opposition Threatens to Continue Protests Despite Crackdown - 2004-03-28

The opposition in Ivory Coast is threatening new anti-government demonstrations, despite the deadly crackdown by security forces against protesters last week. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who has banned all marches, has called instead for the political opposition and former rebel groups to rejoin the national unity government.

Opposition parties and northern-based rebels say despite last week's violence they will try to organize a new march against President Gbagbo, perhaps as soon as Monday.

They accuse the president of blocking implementation of a peace deal signed more than 14 months ago. It includes giving many northerners now considered aliens the right to become Ivorians, vote, own land and hold political office. They say Mr. Gbagbo is afraid he will lose elections if plan is implemented.

A rebel spokesman, Sidiki Konate, says the new protest will take place not only in the commercial capital Abidjan but throughout the government-held south.

"We are going to continue our action as of Monday," he said. "As of Monday, it will not only be Abidjan it will be all the cities of the south of the Cote d'Ivoire. It is not now time to go back and to go to discretion. The time of discretion is over."

Leaders of opposition political parties say their militants are mobilized to try marching again, but they do not want to disclose their exact plans for fear of a renewed crackdown.

Last Thursday, security forces in Abidjan prevented militants from leaving their own neighborhoods, spraying tear gas and firing bullets into crowds. The crackdown continued Friday and Saturday as security forces and armed youth groups close to Mr. Gbagbo raided opposition strongholds, detained thousands and shot those who resisted arrest.

On Sunday, the Abidjan police chief Yapo Kouassi said some of those trying to protest were armed and that police prevented them from reaching the presidential palace.

Mr. Kouassi says 37 people were killed, including two policemen, and that many of the protesters were killed by other civilians.

That number is higher than the initial official death toll of 25, but still much lower than figures from the opposition, which range from 160 to 400. The opposition also denies some its supporters were armed.

President Gbagbo says the march was a renewed attempt to overthrow him. Speaking on French radio, he accused the opposition of timing these demonstrations to prevent U.N. peacekeepers from deploying as scheduled in early April to begin disarming rebels.

He also repeated a call for the opposition and rebels to rejoin the national unity government and resume talks on how to implement the peace deal. They have refused, saying they can not deal with someone who sends troops out to kill civilians.