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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 13:35 GMT
Hardliner backs Ivory Coast peace deal
Abidjan newspaper headline quotes President Gbagbo's plea to accept the
President Gbagbo is asking to give peace a chance
An influential youth leader in Ivory Coast says he has endorsed the peace deal between the government and the rebels after leading violent protests against it for weeks.

Charles Ble Goude told the BBC he had changed his mind about the deal after hearing President Laurent Gbagbo's appeal to the nation for support and restraint.

Laurent Gbagbo
Mr Gbagbo says the accord is a "basis to work on"
A BBC correspondent says it is a remarkable U-turn for the student leader - although Mr Ble Goude warned that he still opposed giving rebels any government posts, a key rebel condition.

Abidjan, the main city, has been largely calm since President Gbagbo's speech on Friday night despite an emotional funeral for a popular Muslim comedian whose killing mourners blamed on government agents.

Mr Ble Goude has been a key organiser of the street protests in Abidjan, which have prompted France and other states to finally begin evacuating their nationals in earnest after five months of civil conflict.

Green light for PM

The youth leader announced that he had changed his mind after hearing President Gbagbo say that he would still have the right of veto on any decision by his new Prime Minister, Seydou Diarra.

FIVE MONTHS OF CONFLICT
Hundreds killed and one million homeless
Country torn in two along religious, ethnic and political lines
Reputation as one of Africa's most stable states shattered
Mr Diarra is a Muslim from the rebel-held north - his appointment under the peace agreement was partially aimed at appeasing the country's alienated Muslim minority.

His arrival in Abidjan to take up office had been blocked by Mr Ble Goude and his supporters.

But the student leader said he would now accept Mr Diarra's appointment.

At the same time, he said that any attempt to bring rebels into government would result in a new civil war.

"In this government, the people of Ivory Coast do not want any rebels," he said.

Tense funeral

For their part, the rebels are angry at President Gbagbo's speech, which they say was an effective rejection of the peace terms agreed in Paris on 24 January despite his apparent endorsement.

But the leader of the main group, Guillaume Soro of the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI), said he needed more time before giving an official response.

Mourners at Kamara's funeral - picture by Kate Davenport
Mourners were in no doubt about who to blame for Kamara's death
Hundreds of opposition supporters marched down Abidjan's boulevards and roads on Saturday to mourn well-known comedian Kamara Yerefe, whose death they blame on a government death squad.

Kamara - known as H - was a northern Muslim, like many opposition supporters and MPCI fighters.

Sidiki Kamara, a cousin of the dead man, had angry words for the president:

"He double-crosses everyone. How can we have confidence in him? We want him to go."

The funeral procession passed off peacefully despite the tension.

In another development, the African Development Bank announced it was activating an emergency plan to transfer staff out of the country.

Correspondents say the move underscores the dramatic decline of Abidjan, a city of skyscrapers, as the stable, economic hub of French West Africa.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kate Davenport
"The rebels say President Gbagbo must apply the accord to the letter"

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See also:

07 Feb 03 | Africa
05 Feb 03 | Africa
03 Feb 03 | Africa
02 Feb 03 | Africa
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