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IN THE NEWS - Ivory Coast Protests - 2003-12-05

Broadcast: December 6, 2003

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

The government of France says it is closely following the violence in its former colony of Ivory Coast. Protesters have demonstrated for several days in Abidjan, the business capital of the West African country. They are protesting the French military presence in Ivory Coast. Riot police fired tear gas as they fought with young demonstrators near the main French military base in Abidjan. On Tuesday the government banned demonstrations, but the protests continued.

A youth leader, Charles Ble Goude, organized the demonstrations. He is the leader of a pro-government group called the Young Patriots. Mister Goude also led anti-French riots in Abidjan earlier this year.

French peacekeepers in Ivory Coast enforce a cease-fire line that separates rebel forces and government troops. Without them, government troops in the south could try to recapture territory controlled by the rebels in the north.

Some protesters threatened to kill French citizens if the French troops do not leave. France said its troops will remain. About sixteen-thousand French civilians live in Ivory Coast.

For months, government and rebel forces have accused French troops of supporting the other side.

France has about four-thousand peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast. They are stationed along a six-hundred-fifty kilometer cease-fire line. They work with about one-thousand West African peacekeepers to help enforce a French-led peace agreement. The government and the rebels signed the agreement in January in an effort to end a civil war.

The war began after the rebels tried to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo in September of two-thousand-two. The war officially ended in July. But tensions over the peace agreement have continued. The agreement calls for both sides to disarm. It also calls for President Gbagbo to share power until a new election in two-thousand-five.

But the rebels have refused to surrender their weapons. They accused President Gbagbo of failing to carry out the peace agreement fully. They withdrew from the coalition government in September of this year.

Late this week, President Gbagbo announced that rebels in the north had agreed to begin surrendering their weapons on December fifteenth. He spoke after meeting with army officials and rebel delegates in the capital, Yamoussoukro. But on Friday, spokesmen for the rebel New Forces said there was no such agreement, only a proposal. The rebels said they will not begin to disarm until disputes about the coalition government are settled.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. For years, the country was considered the strongest and wealthiest in West Africa. In nineteen-ninety-nine, the military overthrew President Henri Konan Bedie. Since then, ethnic, political and religious tensions have increased.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.