ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Virtually sounding the death knell on a French-brokered peace accord aimed at ending their country's 4-month-old civil war, Ivory Coast citizens took to the streets by the tens of thousands yesterday to denounce the deal, as West African leaders huddled with President Laurent Gbagbo to restore peace.
Yesterday's rally, not far from Gbagbo's office here in the commercial capital, was the largest in the country since an attempted coup plunged Ivory Coast into the war. Crowd estimates ranged from 100,000 to 300,000.
The peace accord, negotiated during talks in Marcoussis, France, provides for a government of national reconciliation in which the elected government of Gbagbo and the rebels who have tried to oust him would share power.
Gbagbo's supporters have said that they will never turn over any piece of their government to insurgents.
Since returning from France nearly a week ago, Gbagbo has said virtually nothing about whether he plans to abide by the peace deal, except to call some elements of the accord "proposals." It was not clear yesterday when he planned to speak to his compatriots.
The streets of Abidjan apparently spoke for him yesterday. Leaders of the Young Patriots, an umbrella group that organized the rally, wore T-shirts emblazoned with an X over Marcoussis. They reserved their wrath for France, this country's former colonial ruler, which brokered the peace talks. They accuse the French of forcing their president's hand.
Gbagbo's supporters have appealed to the United States to intervene on their behalf. American government officials have expressed support of the fragile peace deal.
"Chirac is dead. Ivory Coast is free!" marchers cried, referring to French President Jacques Chirac. One man dragged an iron tub filled with palm leaves that he said represented "all the baggage the French will take as they leave Ivory Coast," the Associated Press reported.
The anger toward the French and affection for Americans were on full display yesterday.
Demonstrators waved American flags. One held a photograph of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "We Trust in USA," read a placard. Another: "Bush please help Ivory Coast against French terrorism." R. Kelly and Aaliyah songs blasted from on-stage speakers.
Anyone who could speak a few words of English did, whether broken or polished. "Do you want me to speak French?" the firebrand leader of the Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, shouted from the stage. The crowd hollered its disapproval.
"Are you ready for English?" he shouted again. The crowd hollered heartily.
"I want the United States to come and help my country, which is being destroyed by the right wing of the French government," Goude, 30, said in an interview later in the afternoon.
"Ivoirians love America because America governs peace of the world," said Zadi Any Roland, 49, a rally participant.