22 Feb 2010 12:16:27 GMT
* More protests shake world’s top cocoa grower
* Still no new government
(Adds more protests in Abidjan, Toumodi, details, background) ABIDJAN, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Anti-government demonstrators marched through Ivory Coast’s western cocoa hub Daloa on Monday, burning tyres and pelting soldiers and police with stones as security forces drove them back with tear gas, a witness said.
Protests have erupted almost daily in the world’s top cocoa grower since President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved his government and the electoral commission on Feb. 12, and the military killed at least five protesters at a rally on Friday. Public anger is gathering steam at years of delays to the election timetable.
The polls are meant to draw a line under a bitter 2002-03 civil war that cut the country in two and brought economic growth to a near stand still. “There are people in the streets burning tyres and throwing stones. The shops are shut,” Alidou Kone, a Daloa resident, told Reuters by telephone.
“I’m seeing black smoke rising from two other parts of the city as well.” In Abidjan’s northern suburb of Abobo, a Reuters cameraman saw police disperse marchers, at least one wielding a machete. A group of protesters briefly captured a plainclothes policeman and seized his gun before police broke them up. A Reuters reporter saw several roadblocks that had been set up by protesters on the principle route between the capital Yamoussoukro and the main commercial city of Abidjan.
In Toumodi, south of the capital, at least 2,000 protesters marched peacefully as police and soldiers kept watch.
Protests had been largely peaceful until Friday, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the southwestern town of Gagnoa, killing five people and escalating an already tense situation across the country. The opposition has called for mass action to continue until Gbagbo reinstates the electoral commission.
Gbagbo dissolved the commission after accusing its chief Robert Mambe of illegally adding names to the electoral register to boost the opposition vote and Ivory Coast is now certain to miss a March deadline to hold presidential polls that were already four-and-a-half years overdue.
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a rebel during the civil war, had been due to form a government last Saturday. His aides say he’s likely to announce it on Monday. International pressure from actors such as the U.N., the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore is mounting on Gbagbo to move swiftly to get the peace process back on track. Compaore, the mediator in Ivory Coast’s conflict, was due in Abidjan on Monday for talks with its leaders. Ivorian cocoa output has not been impacted by the protests, according to exporters.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa in Toumodi and Media Coulibaly in Abidjan; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Dominic Evans)
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