Côte d'Ivoire

Protests mount as Ivory Coast prepares government

By Clar Ni Chonghaile

YAMOUSSOUKRO, March 13 (Reuters) - Protesters in Ivory Coast threw up barricades as politicians bickered into the night over the make-up of a power-sharing coalition, just hours before the new government was due to be unveiled on Thursday.

The government is the centrepiece of a French-brokered accord struck in January to end nearly six months of civil war in the world's biggest cocoa producer, but implementation of the deal has been fraught with difficulties.

A group of President Laurent Gbagbo's supporters known as "Young Patriots" set up makeshift roadblocks in the main city Abidjan on Wednesday night to protest at the inclusion of rebels in the new government. Police dispersed the protesters.

As wrangling went on in Ivory Coast's administrative capital Yamoussoukro over who should get two key defence and security portfolios, a Gbagbo aide accused the main opposition party of shirking its responsibilities.

Toussaint Alain said Alassane Ouattara, leader of the Rally of the Republicans, had written a letter to Gbagbo saying his party's ministers would not be in Yamoussoukro for the first cabinet meeting on Thursday because of fears for their security.

"We are surprised that on the last leg towards a durable peace Ouattara seems to evade his responsibilities," Alain said.

Under a deal reached in Ghana's capital Accra at the weekend, the opposition RDR, which the government has accused of secretly backing the rebels, will get seven portfolios in the new 41-member administration.

Three rebel factions controlling the north and chunks of the west of the former French colony will have nine portfolios.

Ouattara was quoted as saying in his letter that the RDR candidates were outside the country "given the numerous abuses and killings against our militants and party officials over the past few months" and would not go to the capital.

Several opposition supporters have been abducted or murdered by shadowy death squads in Abidjan since the war exploded out of a failed coup in mid-September.

A U.N. report has said the killers appeared to be close to the government but Gbagbo has vehemently denied any involvement and Ivory Coast called officially on Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations.


While not a religious war, the conflict has fanned age-old ethnic rivalries between the predominantly Muslim north and different tribes in the more populous and largely Christian south, controlled by Gbagbo's forces.

Thousands of people have died in fighting and reprisal killings and a million have been driven from their homes.

France has more than 3,000 troops in Ivory Coast to back a shaky ceasefire and West African states have also sent peacekeepers.

As the clock ticked towards the first government meeting set for 11 a.m. (1100 GMT), Prime Minister Seydou Diarra was locked in consultations late into the night. Aides said he would have another round of meetings early on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Gbagbo rejected suggestions for the defence and interior ministers and put forward his own candidates.

Diarra, appointed under the French-brokered peace deal, has struggled to find a consensus allowing rebels to take cabinet posts. The impasse was finally broken in Ghana last weekend.

The government is now supposed to assume many of Gbagbo's executive powers, though a decree signed by Gbagbo this week said this would be only for a renewable period of six months.

The accord in Ghana also set up a national security council to determine who will take the defence and security ministries, but the council's first meeting ended without nominations.

Analysts say allowing rebels into government is a vital step to bring the latest war in the region to an end. But it has angered many southerners who argue it rewards insurrection, and fears of more protests on Thursday were rife.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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