Côte d'Ivoire

Cote d'Ivoire: Gbagbo's reforms fail to match promises, opposition says

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ABIDJAN, 27 July (IRIN) - Crucial reforms implemented by President Laurent Gbagbo fall short of what he promised in a South African-brokered deal that is due to pave the way for presidential elections in October, the opposition and rebels occupying the north of Cote d'Ivoire said on Wednesday.

The G7 alliance, which groups the New Forces rebel movement and the four main opposition parties in parliament, said three key reforms implemented by Gbagbo by decree on 15 July fell short of what was required.

These related to the law of nationality, the law of naturalisation and the law that defines the powers and composition of the Independent Electoral Commission.

"The G7 would like to reaffirm that these reforms do not fulfil the agreement signed in Pretoria," G7 chairman Alphonse Djedje Mady told a news conference in Abidjan.

He said the laws as promulgated by Gbagbo, without approval by parliament, would restrict the number of people eligible to vote in the October election and would limit the powers of the Independent Electoral Commission to supervise the ballot effectively.

About a quarter of Cote d'Ivoire's 16 million population consists of immigrants from other West African countries and their descendents.

Many of these people have been persecuted by Gbagbo's supporters since civil war broke out three years ago and most of them are expected to vote for opposition candidates if allowed to register for the presidential election.

Djedje Mady claimed that Gbagbo's changes to the nationality law block children born of foreign parents between 20 December 1961 and 25 January 1973 from claiming Ivorian citizenship.

This move effectively denies a voting card to many potential opposition supporters aged between 32 and 44.

Djedje Mady said that neither the government nor the opposition were consulted before Gbagbo made the changes. He went on to say that the G7 has asked South African President Thabo Mbeki, the official mediator in the Ivorian conflict, to intervene.

Eligibility for citizenship, working permits and voting rights have caused controversy in Cote d'Ivoire ever since the tenure of former president Henri Konan Bedie in the 1990s.

Konan Bedie devised the nationalist concept of "Ivoirete" a doctrine which holds that the only true Ivorians are those whose forefathers traditionally lived within the country's geographic boundaries.

Defenders of the concept say it designates a cultural identity in a country where millions of people trace their origins back to Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and other West African states.

Detractors see it as the expression of an ultra-nationalistic sentiment, that provokes discrimination against immigrants and naturalised citizens.

The row over the reforms comes in the aftermath of a fresh outburst of political violence at the weekend and days before rebel forces are due to start the long delayed process of disarmament.

Unidentified gunman attacked two police stations in an outer suburb of Abidjan on Saturday night and went on to release 217 prisoners from a jail in the town of Agboville, 80 km to the north, before they were dispersed by the army.

According to General Philippe Mangou, the government military commander, seven members of the security forces and 17 of the assailants were killed in the clashes.

Gbagbo's supporters have blamed rebels for the attack.

The G7 has demanded a full enquiry into the incident, but Djedje Mady hinted on Monday that he suspected Gbagbo's henchmen of organising the attack to destabilise still further Cote d'Ivoire's fragile peace process.

Over 40,000 rebel combatants are due to begin moving to cantonment sites on Sunday where they are eventually due to surrender their weapons to UN peacekeepers at the end of September.

But that process now appears under threat, particularly since no progress has been made towards the disarmament and demobilisation of several thousand pro-government militiament in the government-held south of Cote d'Ivoire.

Under the terms of the Pretoria Two peace agreement, signed on 29 June, the army was due to started disarming the militias in early July.

Cote d'Ivoire has been split in two since September 2002 when an attempted coup against Gbagbo plunged the country into civil war.

Tensions have repeatedly come to the boil as a shaky January 2003 peace agreement has stumbled and been put back on track at a series of reconciliation summits, of which Pretoria Two was just the latest.

On Tuesday, Charles Ble Goude, leader of the Young Patriots, a militia-style pro-Gbagbo youth movement, appeared on national television urging his comrades to disrupt political gatherings by the opposition.

Following that pronouncement, Young Patriots encircled the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI) and beat up some of its supporters, said Djedje Mady, who is secretary general of the party.

On Wednesday the G7 announced its intention to prosecute Ble Goude for beating and torturing opposition supporters.

[ENDS]

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