Ivory coast in turmoil

ABIDJAN - Police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters in eastern Ivory Coast yesterday, paralysing the city of Abengourou and forcing several cocoa warehouses to close in the top world supplier.

The demonstrations follow President Laurent Gbagbo's dissolution of the government and electoral commission on Friday in a move that is almost certain to delay long-awaited presidential elections that had been set for March.

"We have decided to protest against Gbagbo's decision to dissolve the government and the electoral commission. It is dictatorship," said Abdoulaye Ba, one of the demonstration leaders in Abengourou.

He said thousands of youths had gathered before riot police fired tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd.

Ivory Coast's prime minister was set to meet with the heads of the UN mission and Gbagbo's party yesterday over the country's deepening political crisis, and is expected to name a new cabinet in the coming days.

Opposition leaders have accused Gbagbo of perpetrating a coup by orchestrating an election delay and said at the weekend that they no longer recognise him as president, raising fears of escalating turmoil in the West African country.

The election, which has been repeatedly postponed since 2005, is badly needed to end years of political instability following a 2002 to 2003 civil war that split the country in two and stifled investment in one of the region's top economies.

Gbagbo had accused electoral commission boss Robert Mambe, an opposition party member, of attempting to add 429000 names to the voter register that did not have their Ivorian identity cross-checked in an attempt to boost the opposition vote.

Opposition candidates Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouettara accused Gbagbo of deliberately creating obstacles for the process in order to keep himself in power, a charge he denies. - Reuters