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Ivory Coast Demonstrators Demand Disarmament of Rebels - 2004-05-29

Tens of thousands of protesters in southern Ivory Coast have called on the United Nations to immediately disarm northern rebels. In the north of the country, meanwhile, demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo.

At the main sports stadium in Abidjan Saturday, supporters of Mr. Gbagbo, calling themselves the Young Patriots and Lady Patriots, wore blue hats, blue berets, even blue plastic bags on their heads.

One of them, student Roger Kuyo, says they are delivering a message to the peacekeepers.

"We are wearing blue hats today just to tell the U.N. that they sent their troops, their peace troops in Cote d'Ivoire to disarm the rebels," he said. "If they cannot do their job, they have to go. They have to leave our country, and we can disarm the rebels by ourselves. They are here to disarm the rebels."

U.N. peacekeepers who will number over 6,000 when fully deployed, are positioning themselves throughout the divided Ivory Coast. Their mission, U.N. officials say, is to assist the national reconciliation government organize the disarmament process.

But that government is in disarray, following President Gbagbo's decision earlier this month to fire three ministers, including rebel leader Guillaume Soro. Mr. Soro and others have been boycotting the government since a deadly security crackdown prevented an opposition protest in Abidjan in March.

Meanwhile, in the rebel stronghold of Bouake Saturday, tens of thousands of northerners staged their own demonstration at the main sports stadium.

One of the demonstrators, Zoumano Ouattara, says the rally was organized to show the northerners' loyalty to Mr. Soro.

"He says President Gbagbo has discredited himself by violating the power-sharing peace deal," said Zoumano Ouattara. "He says the Ivorian president should resign, so the country could reunite."

After almost a year and a half, the French-brokered peace accord, which aims to give equal rights to many northerners, who are now considered second-class citizens, is yet to be implemented.