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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 09:45 GMT
Anti-French Ivorian protests
French troops in Ivory Coast
There are more than 3,000 French troops in Ivory Coast
Both government loyalists and rebels in Ivory Coast are turning on French mediators in the five-month crisis.

The leader of the Alliance of Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, has urged supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo to stage a protest outside the French military base in Abidjan from Wednesday.

The last time they demonstrated after a Paris accord, angry mobs destroyed French schools and businesses, prompting France to tell its non-essential citizens to leave.

Meanwhile, rebels in the town of Bouake have asked the French forces to withdraw from ceasefire lines to enable them to get through to government-held areas.

France has more than 3,000 soldiers deployed in its former colony to guarantee the safety of western nationals and monitor the shaky ceasefire.

The request comes despite the fact that rebel leaders have suspended their threat to attack Abidjan if the French-brokered peace plan was not implemented by Monday morning, at the urging of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The crisis in Ivory Coast is expected to dominate the French-African summit which will take place later this week.

But Mr Gbagbo will not attend the talks because of the current instability in Ivory Coast, one of his aides has said.

French 'safe'

Mr Ble Goude accused the French of arming the rebels in the north and west of the country but said the protests should be peaceful.

"We are suspecting the French of programming to assassinate the president of the country," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Charles Ble Goude addressing Gbagbo supporters in Abidjan
Mr Ble Goude says the French are not neutral

He also said no French military personnel or vehicles should be allowed on the streets of Abidjan.

"They're always circulating in this country. What are they looking for? We want them to keep in their camps. "

But he said that the 15,000 French citizens still in Ivory Coast would not be harassed.

"I can assure the French people and the foreigners in this country that they are not in danger, we have nothing against them," he said.

'Banks closed'

In rebel-held Bouake, about 1,000 rebel supporters, mostly teenage boys and girls, took to the streets to call for rebel forces to march on Abidjan.

They also asked the French to withdraw from ceasefire lines.

"Stores, banks and schools here are closed, and the people are tired of it," said Morel Kome, who helped organise the march.

A man looks disapprovingly at a young rebel in Bouake
Rebels on the ground are getting impatient

"If France and the international community can't enforce the peace accord, let us do it."

Rebel leaders are out of the country, touring West Africa to garner support for the Marcoussis peace accord signed last month.

They claim this accord gave them the defence and interior ministries in a power-sharing government, sparking anger among government loyalists.

After meetings with Mr Obasanjo on Sunday night and Monday morning, they decided to suspend their threat to resume fighting.

Diplomacy

The leader of the rebel delegation, Guillaume Soro, then held a two-hour meeting with Niger's President Mamadou Tandja and the delegation had talks with Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore .

They were planning to travel on to Benin, Senegal and Mali for more talks.

The rebels' diplomatic offensive meant that new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra was under less pressure to form a government on Monday, as originally planned.

Seydou Diarra
Prime Minister Diarra is seen as an impartial technocrat

Mr Diarra, named during the disputed Marcoussis peace accord, was locked in consultations with key players involved in peace efforts, sources close to the talks said.

Mr Diarra will represent Mr Gbagbo at the French-African talks in Paris on Thursday and Friday.

An advisor denied that Mr Gbagbo's absence would be a snub to the French.

"This wartime situation requires the head of state to stay with his compatriots," said Toussaint Alain.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, Nigerian Presidential aid
"The rebels are willing to give peace a chance"

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See also:

17 Feb 03 | Africa
17 Feb 03 | Africa
05 Feb 03 | Africa
15 Feb 03 | Africa
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