Côte d'Ivoire

New Ivory Coast government formed, rebels stay away

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Posted
Originally published
By Clar Ni Chonghaile

YAMOUSSOUKRO, March 13 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's new power-sharing coalition to end nearly six months of civil war was unveiled on Thursday, but rebel and opposition ministers stayed away.

"I welcome this historic moment, many thought we wouldn't achieve what has been done," Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo said in his opening speech to the government's first cabinet meeting.

The key defence and security minister posts were not named and it was unclear when they would be.

In the main city Abidjan, youths demonstrated in protest at the inclusion of rebels in the power-sharing coalition.

The government is the centrepiece of a French-brokered accord struck in January to end a conflict which has left thousands dead in the world's biggest cocoa producer, but implementation of the deal has been fraught with difficulties.

A group of Gbagbo's supporters known as "Young Patriots" threw up barricades in Abidjan for a second day on Thursday to vent their anger at a deal which they say rewards rebels who started a war after a failed coup in September.

Demonstrators disrupted traffic on the main highway passing through eastern suburbs near the university, which is a hotbed for Gbagbo hardliners. Security forces were deployed nearby.

As politicians prepared to unveil the ministers' list in the government-held capital Yamoussoukro, the rebel factions and the main opposition party said in separate announcements they would stay away. Between them they have 16 ministers in the 41-member government.

A presidential aide said a French military helicopter was in the rebel stronghold of Bouake to pick up the rebels and take them to Yamoussoukro but the rebels had stayed put.

"We have a logistical problem as not all of our ministers are in the country. Gbagbo has rejected some of our proposals and wants to impose his choices upon us," Antoine Beugre, spokesman for the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, said.

"But we're not putting into question the principle of the new government, we will take part in future cabinet meetings."

QUESTION MARKS OVER DEFENCE AND SECURITY

The long-awaited government is meant to assume many of Gbagbo's executive powers.

One of the main stumbling blocks since a peace deal was struck in January has been the allocation of the sensitive defence and security posts.

A new accord at the weekend in Ghana's capital Accra removed some of the obstacles to peace in the former French colony.

It gave the three rebel factions controlling the north and chunks of the west nine portfolios, including seven for the MPCI. Seven were also allotted to the main opposition party, Alassane Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans (RDR).

But in a letter addressed to new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, Ouattara said the new RDR ministers could not go to Yamoussoukro for security reasons.

Several RDR supporters have been abducted or murdered by shadowy death squads in Abidjan since the war exploded.

A U.N. report has said the killers appeared to be close to the government, but Gbagbo has vehemently denied involvement.

While not a religious war, the conflict has fanned age-old ethnic rivalries between the predominantly Muslim north and different tribes in the more populous and largely Christian south, controlled by Gbagbo's forces.

France has more than 3,000 troops in Ivory Coast to back a shaky ceasefire and West African states have sent peacekeepers.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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