Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Ivory Coast protesters defy president's call to go home


Violent street protesters yesterday defied President Laurent Gbagbo's calls to return home after days of unrest in southern Ivory Coast and demanded the UN be punished after a deadly firefight involving UN peacekeepers.

As the UN Security Council called for an end to violence, the Gbagbo-allied youth leader whose acolytes have been manning illegal checkpoints and attacking UN and diplomatic offices, echoed Gbagbo's call late on Thursday, telling a crowd in front of the French Embassy to go home.

"Everybody, get off the streets, tear down the roadblocks," Ble Goude, the head of the loyalist Young Patriots, shouted to hundreds of angry young men.

Earlier, peacekeepers fired tear gas grenades to keep back hundreds of angry young men who threw flaming torches at UN headquarters in Abidjan, the country's main city.

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. There were fewer impromptu roadblocks manned by bribe-seeking youths than in previous days.

Gbagbo asked his supporters to end their protests after meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, UN Ivory Coast chief of mission Pierre Schori and others.

But pro-Gbagbo youth leaders said the UN should have been punished 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.

At UN headquarters in New York, the Security Council on Thursday demanded an immediate end to the violence in Ivory Coast and warned that sanctions would be imposed against people who block the roadmap to peace, including by attacking UN or French forces.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed the demand, calling the situation in the west African nation "critical" and appealing to all parties to work together to calm the situation, restore peace and promote national reconciliation.

Ivory Coast is still split between government- and rebel-held zones despite peace deals to end a 2002-2003 civil war.

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