Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast peace accord faces difficult tests

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By Matthew Tostevin
ABIDJAN, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's president faced the tough task on Monday of trying to sell a power-sharing plan for the war-fractured West African country that has already drawn huge riots and questions from his own army.

France's embassy and military base were the main targets of protesters who accused the former colonial power of pushing President Laurent Gbagbo into a deal with rebel factions holding at least half the world's top cocoa grower.

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 who accuse Gbagbo of fanning discrimination in the once stable country.

The war, which blew up from a failed coup on September 19, has left hundreds dead and displaced more than one million.

African leaders, the European Union and United Nations gave their own stamp of approval on Sunday to the deal agreed by Gbagbo, under which he has already named a new prime minister to set up a coalition government.

"I hope that as they go home, all the political leaders who signed the deal will explain to the people...that it was to stop the war, for peace, to create an atmosphere in which to work calmly and respect the constitution," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Paris.

For nobody will explanations be more difficult than for Gbagbo, who has lost powers he won in bloody and disputed 2000 elections, though he will be allowed to keep his job until the next ballot in 2005. Rebels had demanded that he step down.

GBAGBO TO ADDRESS IVORIANS

"People have to understand that you don't leave a war in the same way as you leave a gala dinner," Gbagbo said before quitting Paris for home.

"There are two ways of getting out of a war. You win militarily, or if you don't win, you negotiate and compromise," Gbagbo said.

Gbagbo, who is expected to address Ivorians on Monday, made no comment when he arrived back in Abidjan late on Sunday. The road from the airport into the city was lined with thousands of cheering supporters who ignored a night curfew to greet him.

Many of Gbagbo's supporters cannot understand how it was possible to give senior government posts to the rebels. Suggestions they would get the key defence and interior ministries have fuelled the rioting.

French troops used tear gas and riot-control stun grenades on Sunday to drive back protesters from France's embassy and military base. Several French citizens were hurt by looters who attacked businesses and homes.

Rioting stopped after Gbagbo appealed for calm and asked people to wait and hear what he had to say.

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

"It rests on a consensus that was signed today, that must be put into practice," she said on Sunday.

Ivory Coast's army has called some aspects of the accord humiliating, though, and an army spokesman said the forces expected Gbagbo to discuss the deal with them. Some soldiers say they should get ministries if the rebels have them. (Additional reporting by Paris bureau)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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