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Ivory Coast President Lifts Ban on Public Demonstrations - 2004-04-17


The president of Ivory Coast has lifted a ban on public demonstrations and agreed to give opposition groups equal access to the media, as demanded by the opposition to restart negotiations.

President Laurent Gbagbo has bowed to demands of the opposition parties and rebel movements in Ivory Coast, in order to restore talks aimed at reuniting the government.

The opposition coalition pulled out of the national unity government last month, after a demonstration organized against the president turned violent, when military forces fired into crowds of civilians preparing to march.

The government said the death toll was 37, but opposition parties put it as high as 500. The opposition coalition refused to hold talks with the president, until an official investigation into the events could be conducted.

The confrontation came after President Gbagbo had banned all public demonstrations from early March until April 30, and sent out the military forces to uphold the ban.

A spokesman for the rebels, Sidiki Konate, says another demand was presented to Prime Minister Seydou Diarra this week.

"The second condition is that Mr. Gbagbo recognized that marching is not against democracy," he said. "Marching is a part of our constitution. So, we are going to make a big memorial, this is a kind of inter-confessional prayer for those who died."

President Gbagbo has agreed to lift the ban on public demonstrations, allowing the prayer memorial to take place. He has also agreed to guarantee security during the memorial, and to give opposition groups equal access to television and radio throughout the country.