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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 26 March 2004

COTE D IVOIRE: Coalition splinters amid violence

ABIDJAN, 26 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Opposition groups in Cote d'Ivoire vowed to try to march again in the main city on Friday despite violent clashes with security forces in which 25 people were officially killed on Thursday.

However, life on the streets of the commercial hub had come to a
standstill on Friday and political leaders were in hiding. An uneasy calm had fallen over city suburbs where Thursday residents tried to demonstrate.

"We hold our breath, anything can happen," said Youssouf Kouyate, who lives in Yopougon, a sprawling suburb north-west of the city centre and scene of some of the worst confrontations on Thursday.

Opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo attempted to hold a rally in Plateau, right in the heart of the city on Thursday, ignoring a ban by authorities. But as they gathered in the suburbs to march, clashes broke out between would-be demonstrators and security forces backed by Gbagbo's supporters.

The authorities say at least 25 people died, while opposition parties said the figure could be as high as 127.

Whatever the final casualty figures, observers say Thursday's bloody street skirmishes were the most serious to hit the West African nation's economic capital since war broke out in September 2002.

Army spokesman N'Goran Aka said two policemen were shot and hacked to pieces, while 12 other people died from machete wounds.

The worst violence was concentrated in densely populated areas like Yopougon and Abobo. Residents said on Friday that the streets were still deserted, with no cars on the roads and shops and markets closed. By midday Friday, no further clashes had been reported, although gunfire had been heard during the small hours of the morning.

Opposition supporters said they were too frightened to go out of their houses to buy food, as the security forces continue to patrol the streets.

"We've nothing to eat, there's no more bread," Kamagate a supporter of the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI),said.

In the business district of Plateau, where marchers were supposed to meet on Thursday, armoured vehicles kept watch on the streets and no taxis or buses circulated.

Like many opposition supporters, Kagamate was now hiding, because, he said, he had received death threats from Gbagbo's supporters.

"I waited until nightfall to leave my house, because civilians and security forces came around to take the demonstrators away," he said, adding he waited for orders from the leaders.

Opposition leaders called on Thursday evening for a renewed
demonstration on Friday, though as the day wore on, the city remained quiet.

"We'll get back on the streets on Friday," Alphonse Djedje Mady had told IRIN on Thursday by phone from his hiding-place.

The secretary-general of the former ruling party PDCI said the
supporters would "demonstrate until they find their freedom of opinion."

Witnesses said on Friday that the PDCI's headquarters in Abidjan had been surrounded by Gbagbo's young supporters, armed with bottles, but police were holding them back from getting into the building.

The PDCI unofficially leads the Group of Seven (G7), which gathers together Gbagbo's opponents within the transitional government.

The G7 are demanding the full implementation of a French-brokered peace deal, signed last year to end civil war in the West African nation.

With the issues unresolved, further unrest over the weekend cannot be ruled out. Residents and businesses remain on alert.

The opposition parties accuse the president of stalling on reforms agreed in the Marcoussis accord.

However, Gbagbo's supporters accused the rebels, who control the north of the country, and their political allies of being criminals bent on attaining power illegally.

In a communiqué broadcast on state media, the secretary-general of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) Miaka Ouretto described the decision to march as "inappropriate and inopportune".

Noting the diplomatic efforts made by Ghanaian President John Kufuor and others to get the march called off, the FPI accused the 'rebel front' organising the march of deliberately defying the state's authority, using a nominally peaceful demonstration as a front for "an attempted insurrection".

The FPI singled out RDR and PCI leaders Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bedié as being responsible for the deaths and injuries witnessed in Abidjan.

The clashes in the economic capital had immediate political consequences. In a coordinated manoeuvre, opposition parties said on Thursday that the violent military response had made it impossible for them to remain in the transitional government and withdrew their participation.

The rebels' Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI) and the Rally of Republicans (RDR) joined the PDCI, which had suspended its participation earlier this month.

They accused security forces of shooting unnarmed demonstrators.
However, police said they were fired on first.

Only 15 ministers out of a 41-member cabinet now remain - a serious blow to the basis of the transitional government.

The international community is closely following events. France, the former colony, has 4,000 soldiers stationed in the country and the United Nations is due to start a peacekeeping mission with up to 6,240 soldiers on April 4.

"At a time when the UN is preparing the deployment of a peacekeeping operation, the Ivorian parties must demonstrate the political will to reject all forms of violence and engage in genuine reconciliation and mutual accommodation," said a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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