ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - Tens of thousands of angry government loyalists raced down the skyscraper-lined highways of Abidjan on Wednesday, waving sticks and shouting their rage over rebels advancing steadily south toward Ivory Coast's commercial capital.
Rebels were reported by U.S. military officials and diplomats to be newly in control of another northern city, Seguela, 180 miles away. Residents there said rebel forces had entered the day before, attacking the paramilitary police's headquarters and the city courts.
Amid a West African-led peace effort, Ivory Coast's leaders "obviously are doing a lot of talking," said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And while they are talking, the rebels are making significant gains south."
Ivory Coast's rebels, including a core group of 750-800 soldiers dismissed from the army for suspected disloyalty, grabbed the leading northern and central cities of Korhogo and Boauke simultaneously with a bloody failed coup attempt Sept. 19 in Abidjan.
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The well-armed, well-disciplined insurgents since have spread north and west, taking towns including Odienne and now Seguela, in the west. Their goal is Abidjan, the key to holding a country that remains one of the region's economic powerhouses.
Rebels say only a formidable French military presence at Yamoussoukro is blocking their drive south. The roughly 1,000-strong French force has made Yamoussoukro, capital of the former French colony, its base for rescue missions and other deployments in the nation's deadliest uprising.
The French say they are there to protect foreign nationals and provide logistical support to the embattled government.
In Abidjan, demonstrators streamed along boulevards toward the heart of the city, once known as the Paris of West Africa for its chic boutiques and expensive restaurants. Many waved sticks, and others carried Ivory Coast's orange, white and green flag.
"We are ready to go and liberate Boauke!" the angry crowd shouted.
Youth leaders insisted they would march on Bouake themselves in a week if rebels remained in control of the city, Ivory Coast's second-largest, where a half-million people are struggling without water, electricity or fuel.
Protesters, some waving green branches or wearing leaves wrapped round their heads like traditional warriors, bellowed war chants or sang the national anthem.
Businesses and shops closed for fear of looting and bloody rampages that have broken out in recent years' pro-government rallies. Despite high tensions, there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
Since the Sept. 19 coup attempt, paramilitary police and other loyalists have repeatedly burned hundreds out of shantytowns housing many of the city's Muslims from the north and from neighboring countries.
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