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Divided Ivory Coast Celebrates Independence

Dual ceremonies took place Sunday in the government-controlled south of Ivory Coast and the rebel-held north to mark the 45th anniversary of independence from colonial power France.

Heavy security marked independence day celebrations at the presidential palace in Abidjan, where this year's themes were economic prosperity and patriotism. The nation, which has been divided for close to three years after a failed coup attempt plunged the country into civil war, has seen several failed peace accords signed since then.

President Laurent Gbagbo addressed the crowd in the courtyard of the presidential palace and praised the country for what he said was thriving culturally and economically despite the challenges it faces.

Much of the ceremony was dominated by the presentation of medals to workers in both private industry and government who Mr. Gbagbo said contributed to the 1.6 percent growth of Ivory Coast's economy.

The country, a major agricultural producer and the world's number-one exporter of cocoa, has been trying to bounce back economically since it was cut in half after a revolt by army officers from the predominantly Muslim north.

With much fanfare, Mr. Gbagbo stood in the courtyard and watched as more than 200 medals were handed out to workers. As the last medal was pinned onto the jacket of a government worker, Mr. Gbagbo headed to the podium to make his independence day speech.

He said he thinks the Ivory Coast will be healed this year and he decided to honor people who have helped the country out financially.

Mr. Gbagbo drew loud applause from the crowd when he echoed a message made last month by Libya's Colonel Gaddafi, who told a gathering of African Union leaders that African countries are not "beggars at the doorstep of the rich."

Meanwhile, in the rebel-held north, unity was the theme of Independence day celebrations. Spokesman Sidiki Konate, of the rebel faction New Forces, said his party decided to unite independence day celebration in the rebel capital Bouake and the very northern town of Korhogo.

"We just go to Korhogo in order to celebrate with the population of Korhogo independence day and after we will be back in Bouake."

On Saturday, Mr. Gbagbo said a presidential election in the divided West African state will take place on October 30 as planned, calling on his opponents to "definitively silence the guns" and place their faith in democracy.

That announcement followed news this past week that former president Henri Konan Bedie had been nominated by leaders of the former ruling party to contest presidential elections. Mr. Bedie and the other main opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara, made a pre-electoral pact in May that whoever receives the smallest number of votes in the first round of elections will back the other in order to unseat Mr. Gbagbo.