Violent street protests shook southern Ivory Coast for a fourth day yesterday as many supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo ignored his call to return home and demanded the UN be punished after a fatal battle involving UN peacekeepers.
Peacekeepers fired tear gas grenades to keep back hundreds of angry young men outside UN headquarters in Abidjan, the country's main city. Ivory Coast is still split between government and rebel-held zones despite peace deals to end a 2002-2003 civil war.
Shops, schools and banks remained closed in the city center although life began returning to normal in some outlying areas after Gbagbo called on protesters late on Wednesday to leave the streets and said workers should return to their jobs.
Gbagbo made his declaration in a signed communique after an emergency meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, UN Ivory Coast chief Pierre Schori and others. But pro-Gbagbo youth leaders said that the declaration should have punished the UN for a Wednesday battle with gunmen in a western town that left four Ivorians dead.
"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.
The unrest first erupted on Monday after a UN-backed international mediation group recommended that parliament's expired mandate not be renewed. Gbagbo is leading a one-year government of national unity that has diminished his executive powers.
The parliament, filled with his supporters, is viewed as Gbagbo's last bastion of power, and the decision angered youth activists and the president's backers, who sent their followers into streets. The UN has so far bore the brunt of the protesters' ire.
Wednesday's post-meeting communique also attempted to correct widespread confusion over the mediators' technical language, which many Ivorians believed was an attempt by an outside body to dissolve parliament and direct Ivorian affairs -- bringing back memories of the colonial period that ended in 1960.
In Wednesday's violence, Bangladeshi troops stationed in the government-held town of Guiglo exchanged fire with attackers trying to enter their compound before an evacuation of all UN employees -- between 200 and 300 people -- from the town, UN military observer Captain Gilles Combarieu said.
UN force spokeswoman Margherita Amodeo said four people, who were not UN staff, were killed in the gunfight.
A doctor at Guiglo's main hospital said two dead bodies with bullet wounds lay in the morgue and there were reports of three more corpses in Guiglo's streets. Ten others had been treated for gunshot wounds, the doctor said.
Combarieu said about 70 UN peacekeepers stationed at the nearby town of Douekue were also being evacuated on Wednesday, while in the main UN headquarters in Abidjan, peacekeepers fired into the air and used tear gas to keep about 1,000 protesters at bay.
Elsewhere in the government-held south, Gbagbo supporters blocked streets with burning tires and stopped vehicles traveling on the road to the international airport.