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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 00:37 GMT
Power struggles fuel Ivorian unrest
By James Copnall
BBC News, Abidjan

Thousands of supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo thronged the streets of Abidjan and most of the main towns in Ivory Coast's government-controlled south on Wednesday.

Angry youths demonstrate in Abidjan
Supporters of President Gbagbo have been roused to anger
Thick black smoke drifts up from burning tyres, and wooden benches make up makeshift road blocks, which stop every car that ventures past.

The road blocks are often manned by teenagers, and exist under the benevolent eye of the Ivorian security forces.

Strident appeals for Ivorian youth to descend into the streets blare out from TV and radio sets tuned to state media.

Foreigners lock themselves up in their houses and listen anxiously to warnings from their embassies, which are starting to prepare their evacuation plans.

Sadly enough these scenes have been reasonably common in Abidjan in the last three years, ever since the rebels known as the New Forces seized control of the north of the country, and the "African miracle" plunged into civil war.

But there is a big difference this time round: for once, the major target is not the French, but the United Nations.

Conflicting decisions

The UN mission in Ivory Coast, ONUCI, has nearly 7,000 soldiers and policemen, and, along with some 4,000 French troops they are mandated to keep the peace in the country.

IVORY COAST CONFLICT
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

In particular they patrol the confidence zone, a barrier zone between the rebels in the north and the loyalist forces in the south, and have a presence in most major towns.

Now almost all those UN bases in the south of the country are surrounded by angry mobs, and UN troops killed at least four protestors who tried to break into a military base in the western town of Guiglo.

So why is the UN now the target?

The immediate spark was a recommendation by the UN-appointed mediators, the International Working Group, that Ivory Coast's National Assembly be dissolved.

The mandate of the parliament, which tends to support President Gbagbo, ran out in December.

With the country currently split in two it is impossible to hold elections.

When President Gbagbo's own term of office ran out in October, the UN said he should stay in office for a year.

The International Working Group did not make the same decision for the National Assembly.

Double standards?

Many of President Gbagbo's supporters felt the UN had infringed Ivorian sovereignty and slighted the country's constitution.

President Laurent Gbagbo
Gbagbo supporters fear losing control of the National Assembly
It is not just the men on the street who are vehement in their dismissal of the UN and the French.

Pascal Affi Nguessan, the leader of Mr Gbagbo's ruling FPI party, said the UN had failed.

He announced that his party would pull out of the peace process, and called on the French and the UN to leave the country.

It all seems a fiery reaction again what, after all, was only a recommendation from a mediation group.

Perhaps the scale of the response can best be explained in terms of a power struggle.

When the UN kept Mr Gbagbo in office last October, they also imposed a new Prime Minister, Charles Konan Banny.

The UN said Mr Konan Banny should have all necessary powers to lead the country towards free and fair elections.

Mr Gbagbo's camp seems to feel that if it loses the National Assembly, and if the International Working Group's decisions hold sway, the president will have been leached of almost all his power.

That, coupled with a distaste for the growing role played by the UN and the former colonial master France in Ivorian affairs, goes a long way to explaining the events of the last few days.

Resolving the complicated stand-off will be an extremely difficult matter.




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