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Ivory Coast Opposition Leader Questions Parliamentary Mandate, Approves Sanctions


Ivory Coast's popular northern opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, has formally regained his position as leader of his party three years after he fled into exile. One week has passed since he returned to Ivory Coast, and on Wednesday he held a news conference. Among other things, he questioned a decision to extend the expired mandate of Ivory Coast's parliament and expressed support for U.N. sanctions against the country.

Hundreds of young militant supporters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara sang Wednesday as the leader of their party, known as the RDR, held his first news conference in Ivory Coast in three years.

They chanted "we are here for Ado - Ouattara's nickname - we are here for peace, with Ado we can live together."

The two main political issues he discussed at the news conference were the fate of parliament and U.N. sanctions.

Last week, President Gbagbo extended by decree the expired mandate of the National Assembly, despite a recommendation by international mediators not to do so. The body is dominated by Gbagbo supporters and has repeatedly blocked efforts to implement a nearly three-year-old peace deal.

Ouattara said the parliament's mandate expired in December and the president cannot extend its mandate.

"The president cannot dissolve parliament, and he cannot extend the term of parliament. The parliament cannot dismiss the president, and it cannot prolong the mandate of the president," he said.

Referring to a decision by international mediators to extend Mr. Gbagbo's term in office by 12 months, Mr. Ouattara said it was now up to the international community to decide whether to extend parliament.

"It is the African Union and the Security Council that took the decision to give one more year to President Gbagbo. So only the African Union and Security Council can do the same for the National Assembly," he said.

International mediators' recommendation last month not to extend the assembly's term sparked four days of violence by supporters of the president in Ivory Coast's government-controlled south. Attacks targeted U.N. facilities and personnel. The Security Council is now expected to decide whether to bring sanctions against the organizers of the violence.

Supporters of the president, known as Young Patriots, have threatened more riots if sanctions are imposed on their leaders. Mr. Gbagbo's supporters are demanding that a timetable for the disarmament of northern rebels be released within two weeks.

Ouattara said Wednesday he believes the time is now right for sanctions, adding that all parties have agreed sanctions should be used against those blocking Ivory Coast's stalled peace process.

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