16 January 2006

Cote d'Ivoire: Protests Over Peace Plan Bring Abidjan to Standstill

Abidjan — Activity ground to a standstill on Monday in Cote d'Ivoire's main city, Abidjan, after pro-government youths took to the streets in protest against a decision by international mediators to declare the parliament's mandate over.

Despite a public ban on demonstrations, in a sudden burst of unrest hundreds of young self-declared "patriots" burned tyres and threw up barricades at several main crossroads across the city before authorities appealed for calm on state television.

The protests caused widespread panic, with many workers staying at home and a number of businesses and offices closing during the day. In the big port city of San Pedro, more than 150 youngsters also set tyres alight, a resident told IRIN.

The flare-up of trouble in war-divided Cote d'Ivoire, which split in two more than three years ago after a rebel uprising, came just a day after a panel of international mediators held the third in a series of monthly meetings aimed at assisting in the implementation of an October 2005 UN peace plan - Resolution 1633.

Chaired by UN envoy for Cote d'Ivoire Pierre Schori and Nigerian Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji, the so-called International Working Group said Sunday that the mandate of Cote d'Ivoire's National Assembly had officially expired on 16 December and could not be extended.

But the prime minister could task parliamentarians with special peace missions, the group said in a statement.

The ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), whose parliamentary group is headed by Simone Gbagbo, wife of President Laurent Gbagbo, contends that parliament should remain in office in its current composition until new legislative elections can be held.

Warning that the FPI would not allow international monitors to meddle in Ivorian state affairs, parliamentarian for the party Emile Guirieoulou said on Sunday: "They are not competent to take such a decision. We will continue to work and we will see if they can stop us."

The warnings triggered fear of a new upsurge of trouble in the country.

"I am staying indoors today," a resident of the heavily-populated suburb of Yopougon, a stronghold of ruling party supporters, told IRIN. "These guys have set up barricades not far from my house and I don't want to get in trouble."

The protests clouded the cautious optimism that surfaced at the weekend after European Commissioner for Development and Aid, Louis Michel, announced a 33-million Euro (US $40 million) aid package for Cote d'Ivoire to help kick-start the so-called identification process, and rehabilitate the public health sector.

Identification of who is and who is not a citizen is one of the key issues that must be resolved before elections can be held in this country where one out of four people is a migrant worker or born to foreigners. But the national identification office is said to be technically and financially unprepared for the countrywide operation.

The International Working Group has also laid out a timetable with deadlines for identification and disarmament which UN envoy Schori handed over to interim Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny on Saturday. The timetable has not been made public.

Banny was appointed in December after elections scheduled for 30 October 2005 were annulled due to a deadlock in peace talks between the warring factions. The UN Security Council, acting on African Union proposals, then extended President Gbagbo's mandate for 12 months by special resolution.

Under the terms of resolution 1633, Banny has full authority over a 32-member cabinet he appointed last month. The ministerial-level international group is meant to assist him in carrying out his tasks.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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