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Ivory Coast Opposition, Rebels Wary of Presidential Decrees


Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, has decreed that all candidates will be allowed to run in a presidential election there later this year. But rebels and opposition leaders say they are worried by other decisions the president announced in a televised speech late Tuesday.

Parties opposed to Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo say they welcome his decision to use his special constitutional powers to include formerly excluded candidates in polls scheduled for October, in accordance with a peace process brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

A spokesman for the opposition party, known as the RDR, Cisse Bacongo, says his party is pleased with the fact that the president has decided to comply with peace accords signed in South Africa's administrative capital, Pretoria, earlier this month.

As part of the new deal, President Mbeki asked Mr. Gbagbo to use the special powers granted to him under the constitution to ensure that all participants in the peace process be allowed to run in the election. President Gbagbo had previously rejected using constitutional Article 48, which allows the Ivorian head of state to make legally binding decrees when national integrity is threatened, saying it did not apply to the civil war.

Ivory Coast has been divided between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since the beginning of the conflict there more than two years ago.

The decision to open the election to all candidates now means that the RDR's popular northern leader, Alassane Ouattara, who was excluded from the 2000 presidential election that Mr. Gbagbo won, will be allowed to represent his party at the polls. Mr. Ouattara's candidacy has been in doubt, due to citizenship requirements in the constitution.

But the RDR's Mr. Bacongo says other parts of Tuesday's speech have created cause for concern, particularly a decision by the president to charge Ivory Coast's statistics bureau with compiling electoral lists.

Mr. Bacongo say the decision violates a previous peace deal that created an independent electoral commission to oversee the drawing up of electoral lists. Mr. Gbagbo, he says, is attempting to perpetrate "a coup d'etat"; something he says, the RDR will not allow.

A spokesman for the rebel movement, known as the New Forces, Cisse Sindou, says Mr. Gbagbo is only creating more problems for the future.

"We've got to be careful, because Gbagbo is talking about giving the [mandate] to only one institution concerning the identification and the electoral lists," said Mr. Sindou. "Any questions about identification or elections have been already solved. Giving the green light to only one institution is going to lead to another problem of contesting the results of the election."

Mr. Sindou says the New Forces are also concerned by Mr. Gbagbo's declaration at the end of his speech that he would continue to use Article 48's power of decree until the end of the crisis, to resolve what he called, "the country's problems."

"It could be a declaration of a state of emergency. It could be other things," he said. "There's other dispositions that could really put the peace process in jeopardy. And, as we said, we are going to analyze all of the article to really show the mediator what should be done in the sake of peace in the Ivory Coast."

Rebels and forces loyal to President Gbagbo began pulling heavy weapons back from frontlines last week, in the first step of what is meant to be a more widespread disarmament process dictated by the Pretoria Accords.

United Nations officials say the organization's Security Council will meet Thursday to discuss its future role in the conflict. Around 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers are currently in Ivory Coast to monitor the ceasefire there. Their mandate is due to expire in early May.

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