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Ivory Coast President Refuses to Sign Amendment

December 19, 2004|From Times Wire Services

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A day after lawmakers in war-torn Ivory Coast approved amending the constitution to widen the pool of potential presidential candidates, President Laurent Gbagbo said Saturday that he would not sign the bill and instead would hold a referendum on the issue.

Under the amendment, a person with one Ivorian-born parent would be allowed to run for president. Currently, both of a candidate's parents must have been born in the country.

The dual-parent clause was used in 2000 to exclude a popular opposition leader, former Premier Alassane Ouattara, from the presidential race. His exclusion helped drive the country toward a civil war.

Gbagbo's decision to hold a referendum on the issue immediately triggered accusations from rebel groups and their supporters that he was trying to wreck a French-backed peace plan that called for the amendment.

"The only option for [Gbagbo] is war," said the rebels' chief of staff, Cisse Sindou.

The rebels, who hold the north, do not want a referendum because Ivorian officials say a popular vote cannot take place until after they disarm, which they reject.

Gbagbo said he would make a speech on TV soon to announce the date of the referendum.

Ivory Coast, a country once seen as a model of African prosperity and stability, has been divided since rebels seized the north after a failed coup attempt in September 2002.

Although civil war between the poorer, Muslim north and the richer, mainly Christian south was declared over last year, the former French colony in West Africa remains divided and violence has flared repeatedly.

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