Ivory Coast's key city angered over peace deal


A French helicopter hovers above the French embassy compound, white building centre bottom, as protesters gather at a stadium, left, with smoke rising from the area, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 1:11 a.m.
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Loyalist mobs, enraged by a French-brokered peace deal they say gives too much power to Ivory Coast rebels, attacked the French embassy and army base Sunday and beat foreigners. President Laurent Gbagbo urged his people to accept the agreement for ending the four-month insurgency.
"There are two ways to end a conflict. Either you win the war" or submit to negotiation and compromise, the Ivory Coast leader said in Paris, where two weeks of talks between his government and rebels led to the power-sharing peace deal which Gbagbo's own security forces called "humiliating."
"I did not win the war," he conceded. As he spoke, smoke from fires and explosions filled the sky over the high-rises of Abidjan, a sprawling commercial hub of 3 million people and Ivory Coast's main city.
For hours, French forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to hold back the rioters.
Most attacks concentrated on the French embassy and other symbols of Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, blamed for Gbagbo's coming home Sunday with anything less than a clear victory.
Thousands of people - some waving sticks and clutching rocks - converged on the French embassy and set fires outside. Men armed with machine guns took positions on the embassy roof. French military helicopters buzzed across the city carrying reinforcements.
Elsewhere, mobs looted a French school and French cultural center, and ransacked a main shopping center and a private radio station. Men waving sticks and rocks set up roadblocks, attacking the few foreigners who ventured out to reach safety or their families. Embassies urged their citizens to stay indoors.
"France has disappointed us. They gave power to people who took up arms against Ivory Coast. They have opened Pandora's box," declared Ble Goude, an influential youth leader behind weeks of massive pro-government rallies that sometimes turned violent.
U.N. chief Kofi Annan and leaders at a West African summit in Paris dismissed accusations that France had bullied Gbagbo into the deal.
"This is an agreement negotiated by the Ivorian parties ... The agreement and peace cannot be imposed," Annan said at the summit, called in Paris to give the accord international support.
West African leaders, who had worried the insurgency would ignite another full-fledged war in the region, welcomed the peace deal - however fragile - and pledged to set up a committee to oversea its implementation.
They urged the United Nations to send military and civilian observers and said French troops and regional forces already being assembled in Ivory Coast would oversea rebel disarmament.
The European Union pledged $434 million in aid to Ivory Coast over the next five years, said European Commission President Romano Prodi, who attended the summit. An initial sum of $163 million would be released immediately.
In Bouake, the northern rebel stronghold, supporters banged drums and danced in the streets, celebrating their chance to share in a transition government to lead Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, until elections in 2005.
Sharing power is a key part of the accord to end the only war ever in Ivory Coast, which erupted Sept. 19 with a failed coup attempt against Gbagbo.
The rebels - who accuse the president's southern-based government of fanning ethnic tensions - quickly seized the northern half of the country and, since November, took parts of the west.
The northern-based rebels claim the deal awards them control of the Interior and Defense ministries, giving them say over the army and the heavily pro-government paramilitary police.
Top officials have refused to confirm or deny that split, but it appeared to be the element that ignited the pro-government riots.
Crucial to the success of any peace deal would be support of Ivory Coast's security forces. But that seemed in doubt Saturday, when forces failed to enforce a strict - until now - 9 p.m curfew, allowing crowds to spill onto the streets and begin rioting.
"It's not normal," army spokesman Lt. Col. Jules Yao Yao said of indications his bosses would now come from the northern rebel flanks. "The Ivorian security defense forces weren't even invited to the peace negotiations. It's humiliating."
The loyalty of Ivory Coast's security forces has been a prime worry for leaders since the once-stable and prosperous nation's first and only successful military coup in 1999.
Amid Sunday's attacks, a French Defense Ministry official said France would "reinforce" its military presence - already 2,500 strong - but said details still were being worked out.
But French President Jacques Chirac later said he saw "no reason" to increase troops at this point. He played down the violence, saying "an accord of this nature automatically gives rise to a few excesses."
Outside the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, hundreds of Ivorians gathered peacefully to urge Washington to come out against the peace deal. One of the group held a sign that said, "Bush Jr. Save Us."
The United States has already welcomed the accord, however, and urged both sides to honor it.

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