Côte d'Ivoire

Doubts creep in over Ivory Coast peace accord

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By Matthew Tostevin
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Doubts grew on Tuesday over the French-brokered agreement to end Ivory Coast's war after the West African country's president promised protesters opposed to the deal that he would not betray them to rebels.

President Laurent Gbagbo referred to the accord reached in France, under pressure from the former colonial power, as "proposals".

His aide said they would have to be tailored to suit the mood in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower.

That appeared to fall short of the clear agreement for power-sharing that France, the European Union and African leaders endorsed at the weekend in the hope of ending a four-month civil war.

News of the deal triggered three days of riots in Abidjan during which France's embassy and army base were attacked, French-owned shops looted and foreigners pulled from cars by angry youths in search of French citizens.

The protesters left the streets on Monday only after Gbagbo told them to go home. He said he would not comment further on the talks at Linas-Marcoussis until he had met with deputies and the army -- which calls parts of the agreement humiliating.

"Do not worry, what was said in Marcoussis are proposals," said Gbagbo, to loud cheers. "I am not ready to betray you."

Gbagbo has named a new prime minister to form a government meant to reconcile people in a country that has been fractured on ethnic lines by a war that blew up from a failed coup last September 19.

The main sticking point now is who will get the defence and interior ministries -- something the biggest of three rebel factions, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast MPCI), says were meant to come its way so it would the have confidence to disarm.

APPEAL TO UNITED STATES

Ivory Coast's ambassador in Washington rejected the possibility that the posts could be given to the rebels and appealed to the United States to make sure this did not happen.

Against the backdrop of growing unease, the MPCI rebel group said it had word the army was planning a huge attack with helicopter gunships.

Fighting has left hundreds of people dead and displaced more than one million.

On both sides of a front that roughly splits the rebel-held largely Muslim north from Gbagbo's heavily Christian south, the deal is generally seen as a victory for rebels holding at least half the country.

"It goes without saying that it is hard to swallow for the people and the authorities have to take that into account," Gbagbo's adviser Toussaint Alain told Reuters from Paris.

"We will find a way to make it suitable and see to what extent it can be applied."

The rebels accuse Gbagbo of fanning discrimination against northerners and immigrants who make up a quarter of the 16 million population. Gbagbo says the rebels just want power.

Tension is mushrooming in the south between local people and the northerners and immigrants who for generations have come to work in the fertile region. Several men were injured on Monday in clashes at Agboville, 80 km (50 miles) from Abidjan.

Protesters in Abidjan said they would wait for Gbagbo to speak, probably on Wednesday, before organising new marches. But they planned to meet on Tuesday at the U.S. embassy -- next door to the French mission -- to request help from the United States.

France has committed a 2,500-strong force to protect some 20,000 citizens in Ivory Coast and stop the spiralling crisis, but has said French soldiers will not be used to install the new government.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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