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Protests Again Turn Violent in Ivory Coast

January 19, 2006

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Violent street protests erupted in Ivory Coast for a fourth day Thursday as hundreds of government supporters ignored the president’s call to stay home, angry about a deadly firefight involving U.N. peacekeepers.

Peacekeepers fired tear gas grenades to keep back crowds of young men outside the U.N. headquarters in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital.

Shops, schools and banks remained closed in the city center, though life began returning to normal in some outlying areas a day after President Laurent Gbagbo urged protesters to leave the streets and workers to return to their jobs.

Gbagbo made his declaration in a signed communique after an emergency meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Pierre Schori, the U.N. Ivory Coast chief.

But pro-Gbagbo youth leaders said the declaration should have denounced the U.N. for a battle with gunmen in a western town that left four Ivorians dead Wednesday.

``We’re going to continue to protest because the communique wasn’t satisfactory. Pierre Schori killed Ivorians, but he wasn’t sanctioned,″ said Eugene Djue, a prominent member of the youth group Young Patriots.

Small demonstrations also continued Thursday outside the French Embassy and France’s main military base in the country.

Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. to send more peacekeepers to the country and said those behind the violence should be punished. There are 10,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, including U.N. and French troops.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke to Obasanjo several times Wednesday and once to Gbagbo, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.

``Particularly disturbing is the use of propaganda by hate media that continue to broadcast messages inciting Ivorians to arm themselves and attack the United Nations. This is unacceptable and must cease immediately,″ Dujarric said.

The unrest erupted Monday after a U.N.-backed international mediation group recommended no renewal of the mandate of parliament, which is filled with the president’s supporters and is viewed as his last bastion of power.

Insurgent leaders accused Gbagbo of orchestrating the protests to undermine the new transitional government, which has been set up to usher the country toward new national elections within a year. Officials at the presidency couldn’t be reached for comment.

Wednesday’s communique also attempted to correct a misunderstanding over language that left many Ivorians believing an outside body had tried to dissolve parliament _ bringing back memories of the colonial period that ended in 1960.

In Wednesday’s violence, Bangladeshi troops in the government-held town of Guiglo exchanged fire with attackers trying to enter their compound before an evacuation of all U.N. employees from the town, U.N. military observer Capt. Gilles Combarieu said.

U.N. spokeswoman Margherita Amodeo said four people were killed.

A doctor at Guiglo’s main hospital said two dead bodies with bullet wounds lay at the morgue, and there were reports of three more corpses in Guiglo’s streets. Ten others were treated for gunshot wounds, the doctor said.

Combarieu said about 70 U.N. peacekeepers stationed at the nearby town of Douekue were also evacuated Wednesday. In the main U.N. headquarters in Abidjan, peacekeepers fired into the air and used tear gas to keep about 1,000 protesters at bay Wednesday.

Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, is still split between government- and rebel-held zones despite peace deals to end a 2002-2003 civil war.

Gbagbo canceled planned October elections, blaming the rebels in the north of refusing to disarm. The U.N. and the African Union later endorsed a one-year extension of Gbagbo’s five-year mandate, despite fierce objections from rebels and the opposition.

The warring sides chose a new prime minister, Charles Konan Banny, to shepherd the country toward elections within a year. He named a new 32-member national unity government last month composed of rebel, opposition and ruling party ministers.

On Tuesday, Gbagbo’s ruling Ivorian Popular Front said it was withdrawing from the peace process and would no longer cooperate with Banny’s government. It also demanded U.N. forces leave.


Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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