Ivory Coast Protests Enter Fourth Day
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Violent street protests shook southern Ivory Coast for a fourth day Thursday as supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo defied his call to return home and demanded the United Nations be punished for a deadly firefight involving its peacekeepers.
U.N. peacekeepers fired tear gas grenades to keep back hundreds of angry young men protesting outside U.N. headquarters in Abidjan, the country’s main city.
Shops, schools and banks remained closed in the city center although life began returning to normal in some outlying areas after Gbagbo called late Wednesday for protesters to leave the streets and go back to their jobs.
The latest bout of unrest began Monday in the government-held south after a U.N.-backed international mediation group recommended that parliament’s expired mandate not be renewed.
Gbagbo is leading a one-year national unity government that has diminished his executive powers. The parliament is viewed as the president’s last bastion of power, and the decision by the mediation group angered Gbagbo’s followers who directed their frustrations at U.N. representatives in the country.
Many see the protests as an attempt by Gbagbo supporters to prove they can still muster popular support even if their power is diminished and to ensure they are included in any decisions by the new government, which includes rebels. The rebels say Gbagbo and his supporters are trying to undermine the transitional government.
Ivory Coast is still split between government- and rebel-held zones despite peace deals to end a 2002-03 civil war.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called for the U.N. to increase the number of peacekeepers and punish the Ivorians behind violence.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday condemned the violence and held out the possibility of sanctions. The U.N. is closely watching developments in the Ivory Coast, the Security Council president said.
Some 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the main U.N. headquarters on Thursday. Protesters were also surrounding U.N. military garrisons in the western towns of Daloa and San Pedro, where U.N. offices were firebombed on Wednesday, said U.N. military observer Capt. Gilles Combarieu.
Government security forces ``still aren’t doing anything to keep these youths from protesting. The situation is the same as yesterday, despite the statement from the presidency,″ he said. ``This is no longer a peaceful demonstration, this is terrorism.″
There were small demonstrations outside the French embassy and its main military base. French soldiers and U.N. troops are part of a 10,000-strong peacekeeping force.
In Wednesday’s violence, Bangladeshi troops in the government-held town of Guiglo exchanged fire with attackers besieging their compound, killing four Ivorians. The U.N. subsequently evacuated all its employees _ between 200-300 people _ from the town. Dozens of peacekeepers in a nearby town, Douekue, also left under threat.
Gbagbo called late Wednesday for an end to the protests after an emergency meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the U.N.’s chief of mission for Ivory Coast Pierre Schori and others.
But pro-Gbagbo youth leaders said the U.N. should be punished for the killings Wednesday in Guiglo. ``We’re going to continue to protest,″ said Eugene Djue, a leader of the youth group Young Patriots. ``Pierre Schori killed Ivorians, but he wasn’t sanctioned.″
Gbagbo’s supporters have long despised the United Nations and the French, saying they are biased in favor of the rebels. They claim foreign armed forces are keeping government loyalists from defeating insurgents and reuniting the country.
They consider the foreigners interlopers in the country where xenophobia is at the crux of the conflict. Millions of immigrants have long toiled and now intermarried, complicating a debate over who is an authentic Ivorian and thus entitled to hold power.
In the past, rebels have only protested when their supporters in the south have been attacked by security forces. As the week’s violence has unfolded far away in the south between their foes and neutral parties, the rebels have been largely quiet.
Gbagbo canceled planned October elections, blaming the rebels. Afterward, the U.N. and the African Union endorsed a one-year extension of Gbagbo’s five-year mandate, despite fierce objections from rebels and the opposition.
On Tuesday, the president’s ruling Ivorian Popular Front said it was withdrawing from the peace process and no longer would cooperate with the transitional government, which is composed of rebel, opposition party and ruling party ministers. It also demanded U.N. forces leave the country.
France said it was dispatching an extra squad of military police to Ivory Coast. Originally, the 80 gendarmes were to have replaced another squad that was due to rotate out. But because of the unrest, that squad’s planned departure from the West African country was indefinitely suspended, the Defense Ministry said.
Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.