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Mass Identification Plan Ploughs Ahead in Ivory Coast


At least two have died in a series of violent clashes between political activists in Ivory Coast during the past week. The groups cannot agree over a national identification scheme, which is meant to pave the way for fair elections to be held later this year. From Ivory Coast, Franz Wild explores for VOA what the identification program is and what it means for ordinary Ivorians.

Outside the city hall of Abobo, a mainly poor district in Ivory Coast's biggest city Abidjan, crowds are jostling to get in.

The program to register the estimated 3.5 million people born in Ivory Coast, but still without any form of legal identification has kicked off. Those affected line up for a hearing before the judges, who will issue them with a supplementary birth certificate.

The process may be open to anyone without papers, but only those who are Ivorian will eventually be able to vote in presidential elections, which many still hope will take place by the end of October.

Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo object to the program, because they say there are not enough measures to prevent fraud in the rebel-held north. They say this will enable many foreigners to gain Ivorian nationality and then illegally take part in the elections.

Northern rebels tried to topple Mr. Gbagbo in 2002 and took control of the north after a brief civil war. They say northerners are treated as foreigners and were taken off the electoral lists before the last elections.

Emerging with a bright smile on her face and waving the first legal document with her name on it is 24-year-old Fatoumata Konaté.

She says, she has never had any official papers, and, she says, she could not go to school because of that. She says, all her friends went to school, but now that she has her papers, she says, she is truly happy.

Konaté missed out as a child, she says, because her parents separated when she was still very young. Both her parents died when she was still a child.

She now helps her sister run a food stall across the street from the city hall. Customers gather around for lunch.

In order to be recognized as an Ivorian by the state, Konaté had to bring two witnesses, who knew her parents.

She says, the witnesses know she is Ivorian, because they know her parents village. She says, being a witness is no small affair and you cannot lie.

Saying it still feared fraud, Mr. Gbagbo's party has remained opposed to the registration hearings and said it would stop them by any means.

This has led to several hearings being blocked by groups of Young Patriots, mainly students who are loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

Gérard Stoudman, the top elections official on the U.N. mission supporting the peace process in Ivory Coast, tells VOA he is critical of how genuine Mr. Gbagbo's supporters are in their protest.

"I am surprised that they are surprised as everyone knew it was coming since May," he said. "I have difficulties understanding how this party is so ill-informed that they are taken by surprise Friday morning, learning that this thing is on its way."

Last Wednesday the Young Patriots then practically closed down Abidjan for the day, blocking off most major routes in the city.

Registration hearings stopped in most parts of the government-held south where the Young Patriots operate.

This morning in Korhogo in the rebel-held north, the hearings continue though, as they have for the past 10 days throughout most of the north.

Rebel official Cissé Sindou tells VOA they can stop the hearings in the south, but they will continue in the north. They do not mind, he says, because this will lead to more voters here, where many are anti-Gbagbo.

Sidi Zena has just received his supplementary birth certificate. He says he is now a proper member of society in Ivory Coast.

"I am very happy that I have got my papers in my hand now, because I can go and vote now," he said.

Before anyone can take part in elections, they still need to jump several other hurdles. As it is, people from all sides of the political spectrum now say they are skeptical that elections can be held as planned by the end of October.

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