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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 7 October 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: African leaders want Gbagbo in the helm another year to avert constitutional crisis

ABIDJAN, 7 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Laurent Gbagbo should remain president of war-torn Cote d'Ivoire for up to 12 months beyond his official mandate, according to African Union leaders who stepped in to avert a potential constitutional crisis.

“President Gbagbo shall remain head of state,” from 31 October and for no longer than 12 months, his AU peers said in a statement issued after emergency talks in Addis Ababa called to help find a way out of Cote d’Ivoire’s deadlocked three-year civil war.

Gbagbo, whose mandate expires in just three weeks, on 30 October, was asked to appoint a new prime minister for the country with more extensive powers “acceptable to all the Ivorian signatories to the Marcoussis” peace deal of 2003, one of a string of accords mired by disagreement and dogged by delays.

"The capacity of the Prime Minister's office needs to be strengthened considerably [to implement Marcoussis]" said South African President and AU mediator Thabo Mbeki as the AU summit closed in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday.

The new prime minister will lead a government "composed of personalities proposed by the Ivorian parties [that signed Marcoussis]," said Mbeki.

No deadline has been set for the appointment of the new prime minister or for the formation of his cabinet. No new election date was proposed either.

The AU suggestions are to be put to the UN Security Council at a meeting October 13.

Presidential elections were to take place 30 October under a timetable set by Mbeki to end the three-year war, but successive deadlines in his plan have been missed.

Disarmament of rebels who hold the north of the country has yet to begin and militia fighters in the government-south have not handed in their weapons. Some 10,000 international peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone running across the divided land.

Reacting to the AU proposals, New Forces rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate told Ivorian radio Ivoir FM on Friday that the movement was "shocked" and "revolted" by the resolution.

The rebels maintain Gbagbo should leave on 30 October "because if this person [Gbagbo] stays, he will be like a dictator. He has no right ... to be there," said Konate.

Gbagbo has repeatedly insisted he has the constitutional right to remain in office until elections are held.

But rebels and the political opposition had demanded he step down to allow a transitional government to prepare for elections.

In the Ethiopian capital, the chairman of the ruling Ivorian popular Front (FPI) party Affi N'Guessan, told reporters he was "satisfied" with the talks. "We welcome the decision to appoint a new prime minister," he said.

But finding a replacement for incumbent prime minister, Seydou Diarra, that will be agreeable to all the signatories, will be difficult.

One influential local paper, Le Courrier d’Abidjan, on Friday doubted whether such a "rare pearl" existed.

South Africa will continue to act as mediator despite rebel calls for a change, the AU said.

But the responsibility for the day-to-day mediation will be expanded to a five member committee that will include UN special envoy to Cote d'Ivoire Pierre Schori and UN elections envoy, Antonio Monteiro.

The AU also wants to increase the involvement of international partners in resolving the crisis by setting up a special body, to be called the International Working Group (IWG), which will monitor the implementation of future deadlines.

According to proposals, the IWG should be chaired by Nigeria's Foreign Minister and comprised of senior officials from Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, France, United States, Britain, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union, African Union and regional body ECOWAS.

Talks between Cote d'Ivoire's key players, and chaired by heavyweights Nigerian President Olesugun Obasanjo and Mbeki, will take place in the capital Yamoussoukro "as soon as possible", an AU statement said.


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