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Ivory Coast Tensions Subside as New Leader, Top Rival Meet

October 28, 2000|ANN M. SIMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A relative calm returned to this port city Friday as the new president met with his top political rival in hopes of stemming violence that has torn apart their once-stable West African nation.

Residents cautiously ventured out of their homes to clear away charred debris, overturned cars and incinerated tires used to construct crude roadblocks during street battles this week. The clashes reportedly left scores dead.

The violence erupted after a controversial presidential vote Sunday and continued as supporters of popular politician Alassane Dramane Ouattara took to the streets to demand new balloting. Ouattara and another key opposition candidate were barred from running in the election.

Many Ivorians were hopeful that talks between Ouattara and new President Laurent Gbagbo, who claims to have legitimately won the election, will restore peace. But analysts insisted that the key to long-term stability rests with the new government's willingness to be inclusive and regard itself as an interim administration rather than a permanent one.

"A government of national unity is a good step," said Pauline Baker, president of the Washington-based Fund for Peace, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict prevention. But she added: "I hope they do regard themselves as a transitional government, otherwise they will start bickering again."

Gbagbo and Ouattara met Friday morning at the new president's residence to discuss the appointment of a new Cabinet, the establishment of new state institutions and concerns about the involvement of some military personnel in the week's street protests.

Gbagbo, 55, a longtime opposition leader who spearheaded the country's push for multi-party politics in 1990, ruled out a fresh presidential election. He said that parliamentary polling will proceed as scheduled Dec. 10 and that voting for municipal positions will take place Jan. 28.

Ouattara, 59, a former prime minister and International Monetary Fund executive, was widely expected to win Sunday's presidential vote before he was banned from running by the Supreme Court under the country's former military junta. On Friday, he said his Rally of the Republicans party will not participate in the new government at this stage but instead will focus on preparing for the legislative elections.

"Entering the government is not a priority," Ouattara said. "The priority is burying and mourning the dead." He said about 40 of his supporters were killed in clashes Thursday.

Gbagbo later named a 23-member Cabinet that included his campaign manager, Affi N'guessan, as prime minister and three members of the opposition Democratic Party, whose candidate also was barred from running in the presidential vote, as ministers.

Gbagbo ran against junta leader Gen. Robert Guei and several minor candidates in the election. The general, who had come to power in December after the country's first coup, declared himself the winner Tuesday. He was ousted the following day in a popular uprising that drew support from the armed forces.

Guei's whereabouts were still unclear Friday, though some reports put him in the West African nation of Benin.

Meanwhile, as many as 40 bodies of young men, apparently shot to death at close range, were found in a forest clearing outside Abidjan on Friday, Reuters news service reported. Their identities were not immediately known.

After his inauguration Thursday, Gbagbo said he felt "the renaissance of the Ivory Coast--the birth of a modern, prosperous, democratic and united nation."

Baker, the analyst, said Gbagbo will have to concentrate on ensuring that the nation's soldiers remain in their barracks--in order to avoid the possibility of another coup--while tackling corruption and improving the social and economic status of average citizens.

"The real issue is inclusiveness," she said. "The kind of turmoil we see in Africa generally stems from attempts at exclusion of certain groups."

Many Ouattara supporters said they would obey their party leaders' calls for calm but were prepared to rise up again if asked.

"We are ready to go all the way, no matter what the cost," said Guy Alain Demingnou, 37, who was among militants who fought off advances on Ouattara's home Thursday by riotous opposing factions.

Added student Adama Doumbia: "We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for Ouattara."

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