COTE D'IVOIRE: Former rebels call for President’s resignation after violence
Dakar, 27 March 2004 (IRIN) - The leader of the former rebel group, the New Forces, Guillaume Soro has called for President Laurent Gbagbo to resign after Thursday’s fatal clashes with security forces in the main city of Abidjan, according to local press reports on Saturday.
Sidiki Konate, spokesman for the New Forces has backed Soro. He said that members of the government of reconciliation could not be asked to work with Gbagbo after the deaths of civilians on the streets of Abidjan on Thursday.
According to figures released by the authorities, 25 people were killed when security forces clamped down on the city’s suburbs in the early morning, when protestors were preparing to stage a banned march for peace.
Opposition parties who organised the march have advanced different figures, from 100 up to 300 dead. Reports from diplomats and other independent sources have also pointed to much higher casualties than the state has so far acknowledged.
Rival newspapers, many of which are openly aligned with different political tendencies, offered similarly very different accounts of Thursday’s developments.
“March of the Marcoussistes repressed amidst bloodshed”, said 24 Heures, a daily which is seen as close to the opposition. Notre Voie, which is strongly pro-Gbagbo, talked of “scenarios from a failed insurrection”, stressing that security forces had been welcomed as heroes in areas of Abidjan like Abobo where some of the highest casualty figures were reported.
Gbagbo appeared on state television on Friday evening as an uneasy calm began to settle over most of the city. He promised that “every light possible will be shed on these tragic events” and expressed his condolences to the families of the dead.
But the head of state explicitly blamed the deaths and injuries witnessed in Abidjan on the march organisers, arguing that they had been given due warning and knew the likely consequences of their actions. He reiterated accusations made in an earlier FP communiqué, arguing that the march had not been for peace but an attempt “to bring insurrection into the heart of the republic”.
However, at the same time Gbagbo invited opposition parties, which have quit the transitional government, to come back into his cabinet. He concluded by reminding signatories of the Linas-Marcoussis peace accords that their would be a fresh opportunity to air their grievances at a meeting with him on Monday, adding that he would be willing to meet anyone earlier if so required.
None of the parties have yet taken up the offer.
The Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), which walked out of government last week saying that Gbabgo was obstructing the peace process and circumventing the authority of PDCI ministers, refused to meet the president until security and freedom of expression was reinstated.
The Rally of the Republicans (RDR), which has a strong following amongst northerners, said it would not meet with the "executioner" of their supporters.
Cote d’Ivoire, a former model of stability in West Africa, was plunged into civil war after a failed coup d’etat in September 2002.
The first ever United Nations peacekeeping force is due to begin deployment to the divided country on the 4th April. Renewed violence and the withdrawal of the opposition parties from the government of reconciliation has cast doubt over that deployment.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has called for all players to resume negotiations in a bid to prevent further violence. The UN Security Council reviewed the situation in Cote d’Ivoire in New York on Friday. Its current President, Jean-Marie de la Sablière of France, later issued a statement urging all parties to implement the Linas-Marcoussis accords.
On the streets of Abidjan on Saturday, shops were cautiously reopening and people were again moving around the city, if not in their usual numbers.