October 30, 2005

Ivory Coast leader vows to stay on despite protests

By Peter Murphy

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo
vowed to stay in office despite a clash between his security
forces and opposition protesters demanding he steps down at the
end of his term at midnight on Sunday.

"The President of the Republic will carry on guaranteeing
the continuity of the state ... until elections are held,"
Gbagbo said in a broadcast to the nation.

"I will never allow the decapitation of the state of Ivory
Coast," he added, rejecting demands by political foes and armed
rebels in control of the north of the country since a 2002
civil war that had split the world's No. 1 cocoa grower in two.

Earlier, soldiers and riot police in the country's main
commercial city Abidjan fired warning shots and tear gas to
force opposition supporters marching toward the presidential
palace to turn back.

Several people were reported injured but it was not clear
how seriously, U.N. sources said.

Several hundred protesters took to the streets and set
piles of rubbish on fire after attending a big anti-Gbagbo
rally. But they scattered when soldiers and police fired
automatic rifles into the air and launched tear gas.

Gbagbo, who said he was acting according to the
constitution, blamed his opponents for the fact that elections
originally scheduled to be held on Sunday were not taking

He said the rebels, who have warned they will not recognize
him as president after Sunday, had failed to disarm and unify
the country in line with internationally-brokered peace

Gbagbo said he would seek to implement a recent United
Nations resolution which foresees him staying on for up to 12
months more until elections are held, and also calls for the
appointment of a strong prime minister acceptable to all sides.

"I hope elections will take place well before 12 months ...
that is a job I will entrust to my new prime minister whom we
will name in a few days," Gbagbo said.


A U.N. source said Nigerian President and African Union
chairman Olusegun Obasanjo was expected in Abidjan early next
week to lend his support to the U.N. peace plan.

At the anti-government rallies in Abidjan and the
rebel-held north, opposition youth leaders repeated threats to
force Gbagbo out with street protests.

"At midnight, Gbagbo is no longer president. In a few
hours, we are going to take power," Jean Ble Guirao, an
opposition youth leader, told the Abidjan rally.

The authorities had banned any protest that was not
confined within an enclosed area.

The army reinforced security around the presidential
palace, deploying extra patrols and several armored cars.

Opposition and rebel leaders have rejected the U.N. formula
keeping Gbagbo in office. They insist the new prime minister
should come from their ranks.

In a symbolic gesture of defiance, the rebel New Forces
named their leader, Guillaume Soro, as prime minister of what
they called a future government of national reconciliation,
according to a rebel statement sent to Reuters. Soro said he
would announce members of his cabinet shortly, it added.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged
Ivorians to keep working for peace.

"I call on all the Ivorian parties and their followers to
refrain from any actions that might create tensions and to
remain committed to the ongoing peace process aimed at
restoring lasting peace and stability to their country," he

The standoff in Ivory Coast has raised fears of renewed
violence in the former French colony, which has suffered riots,
massacres and looting in the last few years.

As police and soldiers pushed the Abidjan protesters back,
officers slapped and manhandled a Reuters reporter at the
scene, taking his cellphone and tearing up his notebook. He was
later allowed to leave unharmed.

(Additional reporting by Ange Aboa and Thierry Gouegnon)