Monday, March 29, 2004

Two dozen people were killed in clashes in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital. The clashes erupted when an opposition demonstration went ahead despite a dubious government ban on the march. The country’s democratically-elected but increasingly autocratic head of state Laurent Gbagbo called the protest an "attempted armed revolt.” According to the BBC, The National Police Director General Yapo Kouassi insisted he gave strict orders for the police to maintain law and order using "conventional means". He said he told his men that "even if protestors spat in their faces, they must not open fire", which seems odd procedure for something that was supposedly an armed revolt. Integration Minister Mel Theodore complained, "In insisting on their [the opposition’s] wish to demonstrate, they are trying to create troubles for the government, which is at the stage where it wants reconciliation." Killing those merely expressing their disapproval of the government is a strange way to foster reconciliation. As a result of the repression, the rebel New Forces and the Rally of Republicans, one of the main opposition parties, withdrew from the power-sharing national unity government set up following the French-negotiated Marcoussis peace accords. The so-called Young Patriots, who are well-armed and uncontrolled militias ostensibly close to Gbagbo, objected to the peace agreement and have done their best to undermine it.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an intriguing revelation concerning the alleged coup plot against Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The Australian daily cites the Nigerian paper This Day in reporting that [a]lleged mercenaries facing charges of trying to topple the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea were actually on a mission to abduct former Liberian president Charles Taylor from Nigeria... Sources close to some of the men [being held in Zimbabwe] suggest there was never a plan to oust President Nguema ... They say the west African state was merely to be the springboard for a seaborne expedition to Calabar, the port city in south-eastern Nigeria, where Taylor found asylum to avoid his indictment for crimes.

Last week, British prime minister Tony Blair became the first major western leader to pay a visit to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Col. Gaddafi expressed the hope that the visit would signal a "new relationship" with the UK. Though the Libyan leader has gained praise for his apparent renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, many have criticized Prime Minister Blair’s visit, noting that Gaddafi has never been held accountable for many acts of terrorism or for his role in destabilizing many West African countries. The prime minister dismissed such criticism noting that [p]eople should not forget the past, they should move beyond it. (I’m sure people in countries devastated by Gaddafi’s proteges, like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, would love to move beyond it, if they could). In a totally unrelated development [wink], British firms are to sign further significant deals with Libya in coming weeks, the British trade secretary has announced.


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