Ivory Coast: March 24, 2004


Ghana is trying to help defuse a looming crisis. An opposition demonstration planned for the 25th in Abidjan and rising political tensions sparked a presidential decree ordering the army to help maintain public order. Despite an official ban on such protests, opposition and rebel politicians are planning their march to spotlight the fact that peace accords haven't been implemented yet.

The ex-rebel "New Forces" joined opposition PDCI party's protests last week and have indicated they also may leave the national unity government. The local pro-Gbagbo media are fanning a rumor that the "New Forces" are planning a coup (using the protest as cover) and pro-Gbagbo militias are girding for street battles.

Senior military officials consider this march as the first stage of an assault against the Presidential Palace and plan to use all means to stop an attack. The area around the Palace has been declared a "Red Zone", to be defended at all costs by Gbagbo's presidential guards.

The army put the city garrison on full alert and will have Mi-24 helicopter gun ships over the business district where the march is due to take place. Checkpoints and roadblocks were reintroduced across the city, notably on the two bridges linking the airport to Abidjan's central business district. Tanks have been stationed outside military and police headquarters to bolster defenses. - Adam Geibel


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