Hardline youths block Ivory Coast streets

July 20, 2006 at 1:42 AM
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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, July 19 (UPI) -- Pro-government youths blocked streets in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan Wednesday to protest a plan they say could skew upcoming presidential elections.

Police fired teargas to disperse members of the Young Patriots, who burned tires and held rocks and sticks as they blocked traffic in the country's largest city, the Integrated Regional Information Networks, an independent news agency of the United Nations, reports.

The demonstrators were protesting a program intended to decide who, among the West African country's 3.5 million people without birth certificates, can claim Ivorian citizenship.

Establishing who is Ivorian is a key step in implementing a United Nations peace plan to end the civil war that broke out in 2002, IRIN says.

Supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo fear rebels will use the citizenship program to gain citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people who are not legitimately Ivorian. This would give Gbagbo's rivals thousands of illegal votes in elections set to occur by the end of October, they say.

The rebels say they need the program to end official discrimination that has denied them national identity papers.

Some officials say the elections will likely be delayed, IRIN reported.

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