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Thousands Protest in Ivory Coast

September 7, 1998

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Thousands of chanting opposition supporters marched Monday to protest new changes to the constitution that give the president sweeping powers in this West African nation.

About 10,000 demonstrators paraded slowly along a major highway at the edge of downtown Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, often sitting down to halt traffic.

A few dozen police in riot gear watched the marchers, but there were no reports of violence.

In June, a new article of the constitution was approved that gives President Henri Konan Bedie the power to extend his term from five to seven years and create a second chamber of parliament in which he would appoint one-third of the members. The article may even allow him to cancel national elections.

The march had been postponed so as not to interfere with the month-long World Cup soccer tournament.

Demonstrators chanted anti-France slogans, accusing the French government of backing alleged corruption by Bedie’s administration.

``Bedie is a thief!″ they shouted. ``France must listen to our demands!″

A few protesters carried signs saying a civil war could be coming and accused the president of helping members of his Baoule tribe at the expense of other ethnic groups.

Bedie won presidential elections in 1995 after taking over following the death of his predecessor Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. The next elections are expected in 2000.

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