Ivory Coast protests enter fourth day despite president’s call for them to stop
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Protesters defied a call by Ivory Coast’s president to end street violence that entered its fourth day Thursday, as the U.N. Security Council warned of possible sanctions against those trying to sabotage the African nation’s peace process.U.N. peacekeepers fired tear gas grenades to keep back hundreds of angry young men protesting outside U.N. 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 President Laurent Gbagbo called late Wednesday for protesters – many of whom are believed to be his supporters – to leave the streets and go back to their jobs.The latest bout of unrest began Monday in the government-held south after a U.N.-backed international mediation group recommended that parliament’s expired mandate not be renewed.Gbagbo is leading a one-year national unity government that has diminished his executive powers. The parliament is viewed as the president’s last bastion of power, and the decision by the mediation group angered Gbagbo’s followers who directed their frustrations at U.N. representatives in the country.Many see the protests as an attempt by Gbagbo supporters to prove they can still muster popular support even if their power is diminished and to ensure they are included in any decisions by the new government, which includes rebels. The rebels say Gbagbo and his supporters are trying to undermine the transitional government.Ivory Coast is still split between government- and rebel-held zones despite peace deals to end a 2002-03 civil war.The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called for the U.N. to increase the number of peacekeepers and punish the Ivorians behind violence.The U.N. Security Council on Thursday demanded the immediate end to the violence and warned that sanctions will be imposed against people blocking the peace process in the divided west African nation.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the situation “critical” and appealed to all parties to work together to calm the situation, restore peace and promote national reconciliation.The council stressed that “targeted measures” – code for sanctions – will be imposed on people blocking the peace process, including by attacking U.N. or French forces. But after more than a year, the council has yet to come up with a list of names of people that would be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze.Some 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the main U.N. headquarters on Thursday. Protesters were also surrounding U.N. military garrisons in the western towns of Daloa and San Pedro, where U.N. offices were firebombed on Wednesday, said U.N. military observer Capt. Gilles Combarieu.Government security forces “still aren’t doing anything to keep these youths from protesting. The situation is the same as yesterday, despite the statement from the presidency,” he said. “This is no longer a peaceful demonstration, this is terrorism.”There were small demonstrations outside the French embassy and its main military base. French soldiers and U.N. troops are part of a 10,000-strong peacekeeping force.Gbagbo canceled planned October elections, blaming the rebels. Afterward, the U.N. and the African Union endorsed a one-year extension of Gbagbo’s five-year mandate, despite fierce objections from rebels and the opposition.On Tuesday, the president’s ruling Ivorian Popular Front said it was withdrawing from the peace process and no longer would cooperate with the transitional government, which is composed of rebel, opposition party and ruling party ministers. It also demanded U.N. forces leave the country.France said it was dispatching an extra squad of military police to Ivory Coast. Originally, the 80 gendarmes were to have replaced another squad that was due to rotate out. But because of the unrest, that squad’s planned departure from the West African country was indefinitely suspended, the Defense Ministry said.—-Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado
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