Sunday, February 21, 2010

5 Killed in Ivory Coast Anti-Government Protests

5 killed in Ivory Coast anti-government protests

By MARCO CHOWN OVED Associated Press Writer © 2010 The Associated Press
Feb. 19, 2010, 5:21PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Police fired on demonstrators at an anti-government rally Friday, killing five people and wounding a dozen others in Ivory Coast's latest protest since the president dissolved the government a week ago, the opposition said.

Demonstrations spread to at least eight cities in the West African nation on Friday. Moussa Dembele of the opposition RDR party said the deadly protest took place in Gagnoa, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of the economic capital, Abidjan.

President Laurent Gbagbo had set a Friday deadline to form a new government but the prime minister on Thursday evening asked for a 48-hour extension.

Dembele said late Wednesday that the death toll had increased to five people, from three earlier in the day.

"The police were aiming directly at the protesters," he said. "These weren't stray bullets."

Augustin Gehoum, a spokesman for Gbagbo's party, said the deaths were "regrettable," but said police were not to blame. He also said the protests were part of an opposition strategy to destabilize the country after Gbagbo's decision to dissolve the government.

"Now they are crying 'dictatorship,'" he said. "It's nothing of the sort. Mr. Gbagbo dissolved a body that had lost the confidence of the Ivorian people."

The dissolution of the government has thrown into doubt the political reconciliation process in Ivory Coast, which was about to hold elections. Five years after the president's term ended, Ivory Coast has yet to hold a ballot to replace him.

The now-defunct government was the fruit of a peace agreement signed by Gbagbo's government and the New Forces rebels in 2007 following a civil war that had split the world's No. 1 cocoa producer into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south. The unity government was composed of 33 ministers from all political parties and rebel factions.

At the heart of the impasse that has delayed elections for five years is the question of who is really Ivorian. Before its brief civil war, Ivory Coast was one of Africa's economic stars boasting a modern, cosmopolitan capital which lured tens of thousands of immigrants from poorer neighboring nations. At least a quarter of the nation's 20 million people have been disqualified from voting based on the electoral law's convoluted definition for determining eligibility, stoking tension.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "grave concern" at the Ivorian political situation, according to U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe.

"The secretary-general is concerned about the clashes that occurred today in Gagnoa, which resulted in a number of deaths and injured people and are a reminder of the volatility of the situation," Okabe said.

"The secretary-general urges the Ivorian people to remain calm and the Ivorian political actors, authorities and the media to refrain from any action and rhetoric that could result in more violence," she said.

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