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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 00:15 GMT
Ivorian president calls for calm
Ivorian security forces guard a television headquarters in Abidjan
Ivorian forces have done little to prevent street protests
The president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, has called for his supporters to end violent protests against foreign targets in the country's main city.

Mr Gbagbo urged the people of Abidjan to return to work on Thursday and end attacks on United Nations peacekeepers.

He issued a statement after meeting Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in an effort to restore calm.

Mr Gbagbo's supporters were angered by recommendations by a UN group that parliament should be dissolved.

Earlier, some 2,000 Ivorians loyal to Mr Gbagbo surrounded the UN headquarters in Abidjan, and were held back by tear gas and rifle fire.

More than 300 troops were forced to withdraw from two UN bases in the west of the country after clashes killed at least four protesters.

The UN Security Council has expressed "great concern" at the unrest.

Confusing 'fury'

Ivory Coast has been split in two since a failed coup attempt in 2002, with rebels controlling the northern half of the country.

IVORY COAST CONFLICT
Map
Sept 2002: Dissident soldiers fail to overthrow President Gbagbo, but rebels seize north of country
May 2003: Armed forces sign ceasefire with rebel groups
Nov 2004: Ivorian air force attacks rebels; French forces destroy parts of Ivorian air force after nine of their soldiers killed. Violent anti-French protests prompt thousands of Westerners to leave
Oct 2005:UN extends President Gbagbo's mandate for 12 months and postpones elections

Protests by Gbagbo supporters erupted on Monday after international mediators recommended dissolving parliament, whose mandate has expired.

In his statement issued late on Wednesday, Mr Gbagbo assured supporters that only the president and prime minister can decide whether to dissolve parliament, a fact he said had got lost in the fury of the past few days.

Nevertheless, the BBC's James Copnall in Abidjan says it remains to be seen whether President Obasanjo's mediation will bring the situation back to normal.

Following the mediators' move, the ruling FPI party pulled out of the transitional government and UN-backed peace talks, and called on the 10,000 French and UN troops keeping the peace to leave.

'Defended themselves'

In the early hours of Wednesday, the UN base at Guiglo, 300km (190 miles) west of Abidjan, was besieged by youths supporting President Gbagbo, known as "Young Patriots".

The 300-strong Bangladeshi peacekeeping force stationed there responded with force, described as "defence" by a UN military observer.


The UN decided to abandon Guiglo and the smaller base of Douekue nearby, and the peacekeepers were being withdrawn to the demilitarised zone further north, Capt Combarieu said.

Our correspondent says the Young Patriots are also now in control of virtually all the main streets in Abidjan.

France, the former colonial power, expressed concern and called for calm. The head of French defence staff has called for sanctions against Ivory Coast.

The UN Security Council will consider possible responses, including sanctions, at a meeting on Thursday, said council president Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania.

'Putsch'

International mediators were appointed by the UN to help steer the country towards elections, which were due to be held last year but were postponed because of the continued instability.

Analysts say by calling for the dissolution of parliament, mediators intended to strengthen Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny's authority and ensure that hostile deputies did not block attempts to implement the peace process, as happened last year.

But the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) accused the international community of carrying out a "constitutional coup d'etat".

A spokesman for the rebel New Forces, which hold the north, responded: "There is not a future for Ivory Coast if the FPI succeeds in making a putsch against the peace process. That means war."


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See the violent clashes in Abidjan



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