- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast Thousands of government loyalists surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Ivory Coast yesterday to demand that Washington oppose a peace deal they say concedes too much to rebel forces.
Waving U.S. flags, the 6,000 people appealed to Washington to block the French-brokered power-sharing deal with rebels who control about half of Ivory Coast, once the economic engine of West Africa.
Cheering crowds mobbed the car of a few Americans who ventured out, chanting, "U.S.A., U.S.A.," and pleading for American support. Heavily armed U.S. soldiers looked on.
Organizers passed out lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the crowd to sing. One protester carried a sign that read, "Our freedom is in your hands, U.S.A."
The State Department already has said it supports the accord and has urged both sides to comply with it. That stance appears not to have sunk in with the loyalists.
An e-mail message sent overnight to Americans in Ivory Coast told them to consider taking steps to prepare for a U.S. evacuation, such as packing bags.
The U.S. Embassy was closed Monday and yesterday. Embassy officials called it a precaution, despite expectations that any protests there would be peaceful.
The march came after President Laurent Gbagbo appealed to his supporters to stop rioting against the peace deal to end Ivory Coast's 4-month-old civil war. The deal was announced Friday, and since Saturday, mobs have beaten Westerners and attacked the French Embassy and other French targets.
Mr. Gbagbo has urged loyalists to accept the power-sharing deal with the rebels.
Rebels say the deal gives them control of the ministries that oversee the army and other security forces. Government loyalists say that it gives the rebels too much power, and even the military has called the deal "humiliating."
Late Monday, Mr. Gbagbo showed signs that his support for the deal could be wavering. Speaking to people gathered outside his home, he called the peace deal's terms "propositions" that should be approved by the people.
At yesterday's rally, protesters said they would pay close attention to Mr. Gbagbo's address to the nation. His speech is expected in the next few days.
The president "told us he'd signed nothing in Paris," said Dominique Flan, his face covered in traditional mud paint. "If he ends up telling us different, we'll take him out."
France has 2,500 troops in Ivory Coast, deployed to protect foreigners and try to enforce a frequently violated cease-fire in Ivory Coast's war.
Rebels took up arms Sept. 19, accusing Mr. Gbagbo and his southern-based government of fanning ethnic tensions. Rebels since have seized the northern half of Ivory Coast and parts of the cocoa- and coffee-rich west.
The French-brokered accord reached last week calls upon the government, rebels and political opposition to share power in a transitional government until 2005 elections.


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