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 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 02:05 GMT
Positive signs at Ivory Coast talks
Protesters in Abidjan on Saturday
Many government supporters will not compromise
French mediators say there has been progress in talks between representatives of the Ivory Coast Government and rebels in Paris.

There were also unconfirmed reports that a deal may be emerging on a thorny issue at the heart of the talks - rebel objections to controversial nationality laws.

As talks continued, the first West African peacekeepers arrived in Ivory Coast.

All sides to the negotiations stopped work to watch the Ivory Coast youth football team lose 4-3 in extra time to Egypt in the African Junior Cup final.

Protests

"The work is making progress, there is no freeze," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau on Saturday.

Talks in Paris
There are signs of hope for the Paris talks
However, he declined to give details after the fourth day of talks, which are scheduled to last up to 10 days.

Rebels opposed to President Laurent Gbagbo say that Ivory Coast's citizenship laws have robbed thousands of their rights.

They want him to resign to clear the way for new elections, but the government is calling for the rebels to disarm.

In Ivory Coast, there were demonstrations in support of both sides.

In Abidjan, up to 30,000 government supporters marched to show their backing for the president.

We are "ready to take to the streets, if the Paris summit is not favourable for us," said one protester.

A pro-rebel march in the northern city of Bouake reinforced the call for early elections.

"Yes to Gbagbo's departure - Yes to the revision of the constitution" read the demonstrators' banners.

The rebels accuse the president and his government of ethnic discrimination against those in the north.

Replacing the French

The 172 Senegalese soldiers who arrived on Saturday are the first part of a 2,500-strong West African peacekeeping force.

It will eventually replace French troops monitoring the ceasefire between Ivorian government troops and the main rebel faction.

The Senegalese troops arrived in Abidjan on Saturday aboard two landing craft despatched from a French troop-carrying ship.

After months of political wrangling about the size of the force and who should lead it, Senegal has been given the task of running the West African peacekeeping mission.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Paul Welsh reports from Paris
"In the Ivory Coast, they wait for results from almost 5,000 miles away"

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08 Jan 03 | Africa
05 Jan 03 | Africa
10 Jan 03 | Africa
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