Former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie, who was deposed in a coup in 1999, has returned to divided Ivory Coast, saying a new government is needed to prepare elections. Current President Laurent Gbagbo has vowed to stay on until the poll takes place.
Hundreds, including reconciliation Prime Minister Seydou , greeted Mr. Bedie at the airport in Abidjan late Sunday.
One woman prayed for his security. She said God was on his side. Mr. Bedie left Ivory Coast last year amid growing insecurity for opposition activists and their leaders.
His security detail now includes South African police, United Nations peacekeepers from Jordan, and Ivorian security, mostly from his Baoule ethnic group.
Speaking at the Abidjan headquarters of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, Mr. Bedie said five years of power was enough for Mr. Gbagbo. He said what he called "Mr. Gbagbo's pleasure has lasted long enough."
He accused Mr. Gbagbo of intentionally delaying the implementation of repeated peace agreements, including the latest in Pretoria, South Africa.
Mr. Bedie said Ivorians must now consult among one another and that solutions should exist for a peaceful transition period without Mr. Gbagbo to disarmament and free and fair elections. Rebels and other opposition leaders have also made this demand.
Mr. Bedie is a leader of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, and after his speech party supporters said his arrival will bolster their organization and solidify their base in these uncertain times.
Lawmaker Amoakon Edjampan tells VOA Mr. Bedie has returned to resume his work for the party, after spending months abroad as a peace negotiator.
"He had to work, he was in Pretoria and so on," he says. "Now he wants to be back and I think it's good for us as a party to have our boss here. He's coming for his party, he's coming to lead our action toward everything including elections. (But) he's not coming just for election, he's coming to be the leader of his party and work with his party."
Mr. Bedie will be staying at his Abidjan residence in the neighborhood of Cocody not far from Mr. Gbagbo's official residence.
Mr. Bedie who was deposed in the December 1999 coup was then excluded from the disorganized 2000 vote along with popular northern opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, who is still in exile.
Both have been accepted for the 2005 vote. But northern-based rebels, who have controlled more than half the country for nearly three years, have refused to disarm due to delays in changing nationality laws, as well as ensuring a free and fair vote.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has accused the Ivory Coast political class of leading the world's leading cocoa producer to the brink of ethnic disintegration. He says the scheduled October 30th poll date is now impossible.
What to do after that date is now the biggest topic of discussion in Ivory Coast.
Mr. Gbagbo says he should stay in power until the elections are organized.
A non-political civil society group says Mr. Gbagbo should be given an extra three months, while others say Mr. Gbagbo should remain as a figurehead and the reconciliation prime minister, Seydou Diarra, should be given the task to implement the latest peace accord and the election.