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Gbagbo's Party Dominates New Ivory Coast Government

The party of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo dominates a new power-sharing government with northern-based rebels that was formed Saturday. Meanwhile, international peacekeepers say they will start withdrawing from a buffer zone mid-April, more than four years after the country's split in two. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Presidential spokesman Amede Couassi Ble says Mr. Gbagbo consulted with the population before deciding to move toward peace and direct dialogue with rebels.

He says the aim of this new government is for reconciliation and to have free and fair elections before the end of the year.

He then gave the names of the members of the government.

As was announced earlier, rebel leader Guillaume Soro was presented as prime minister.

Other key positions are held by close allies of Mr. Gbagbo. Another government spokesman, and key mediator in the recent talks with rebels, Desire Tagro, is the new interior minister.

Former education minister Michel Amani Nguessan is the new defense minister.

There are few other major changes from the previous government of U.N.-appointed Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. Most of the changes concern his allies, who are no longer present.

A ministry Banny created in the aftermath of a toxic waste scandal last year has been eliminated.

The formation of the new government comes as U.N. and French peacekeepers say they will gradually start withdrawing from a buffer zone in mid-April. Some of their troops will take part in mixed Ivorian army and rebel patrols.

Foreign troops have been monitoring an often tenuous ceasefire since 2003. The key rebel demand is to allow more Ivorian northerners, often treated as second class citizens, to be able to vote in inclusive elections.

The previous government failed to complete the process of identifying millions of undocumented Ivorians, as called for in successive peace deals.