Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast president's party wants prime minister out

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By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, June 9 (Reuters) - Allies of Ivory Coast's president called on Thursday for the prime minister to resign after ethnic violence in a western town left at least 100 people dead and raised fears of a return to civil war.

The brutal killings in the cocoa town of Duekoue underscored the danger of fresh fighting in the world's top cocoa grower, which slid into conflict when rebels tried to oust President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002 and seized the north.

Gbagbo said late on Wednesday at least 100 people were killed last week in Duekoue and described the attacks as crimes against humanity. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm the toll.

The ethnic violence raised tensions between the civil war foes as rebels and Gbagbo traded blame for the bloodletting.

On Thursday, Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) joined the debate, saying Prime Minister Seydou Diarra's government was unable to guarantee people's safety and had done nothing to prepare for disarmament, due this month.

"Given the manifest inability of the unity government to assure the security of the population, to disarm rebel movements and to reunite the country, the FPI calls for the immediate resignation of the prime minister and his government," FPI president Pascal Affi N'Guessan told a news conference.

Diarra was chosen to head the unity government as part of a January 2003 peace deal. One of his advisers, who declined to be named, said the FPI had no right to demand his departure.

"This is not the first time the FPI has called for his resignation. Every time they have problems, they accuse the prime minister, but he will not respond," the adviser said.

NEW SECURITY MEASURES

Despite the 2003 peace deal and others since, the civil war has ground on, fed by flashes of violence and mutual distrust.

Hopes for peace were boosted by an April accord which led to pledges by both sides to disarm from June 27 but last week's violence in Duekoue cast doubt on that timetable.

The ethnic rift behind the killings is not directly related to the civil war although it mirrors the political divide between the northern rebels and Gbagbo's southern forces.

Duekoue is at the heart of Ivory Coast's cocoa-rich region near the Liberian border, an area fraught with ethnic tensions.

The United Nations, which has 6,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast including some based in Duekoue, said on Thursday -- eight days after the violence started -- that it would begin joint patrols in the town with the Ivorian army.

Gbagbo said he would announce new security measures for Duekoue and the west in general by the end of the week.

N'Guessan had previously called on Diarra to quit last October after rebels failed to meet a disarmament deadline.

"Eighteen days from the start of disarmament the prime minister has done nothing. He's taken no initiative to disarm the rebels. Once again we're heading for failure," N'Guessan, a former prime minister, said on Thursday. (Additional reporting by Peter Murphy)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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