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Ivory Coast Opposition Fails to Rally Activists for More Protests - 2004-03-29

Opposition activists in Ivory Coast are refusing calls by their parties for fresh protests against President Laurent Gbagbo, saying they are afraid of a renewed military crackdown.

Businesses, government offices, markets and schools reopened in Abidjan as opposition supporters rejected calls by their leaders to stage another march against Mr. Gbagbo.

In the busy Yopougon district, where last week security forces fired into crowds to disperse opposition activists, one supporter, named Kone, says there is no point in staging a new protest, for now.

He says opposition leaders just sent their militants to die last week because their security was not ensured. He also says the attempted march achieved nothing.

In Anyama, one area where the crackdown against the march was the most severe, civilians say they are terrorized by security forces who continue to patrol their streets.

One woman, called Fatimata, is happy the march was called off, so she can go back to selling peanuts. But she says she is still frightened.

"Even this morning the security forces are going around," she said. "They are looking for people, but usually when we see them coming we flee in the opposite direction or we try to hide in our homes. There were six dead here in our area. We are tired of violence, we want peace. We are poor. Since Thursday, it has been hard to find food."

The opposition now claims up to 500 people have been killed since the crackdown began last Thursday, but the army says those numbers are what it calls "intoxication."

Figures from the government put the number of dead at 37. The government also says reports that thousands of people have been arrested are false. Security Minister Martin Bleou said 205 arrests had been made since Thursday's aborted march, and that 33 opposition militants remain in detention.

Despite the refusal of their activists to march for now, opposition leaders are trying to organize a new street protest. They say their aim is to call for Mr. Gbagbo to implement Ivory Coast's power-sharing peace accord that was signed in January 2003 but has yet to be implemented.

The northern-based rebels are also calling for their supporters to protest.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate says he understands opposition activists are scared, but he says they still need to fight for their basic rights.

President Gbagbo has banned all marches, saying they are covert operations to try to overthrow him. Tensions have risen just as U.N. peacekeepers are due to deploy to help French and West African soldiers.