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Ivory Coast Officials Say Election May be Postponed Until 2008


Election officials in Ivory Coast say the country's presidential election may now have to be postponed until late 2008. It was initially scheduled for October 2005, but has been postponed repeatedly due to slow implementation of successive peace deals. Phillip Wellman reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

The postponement announced Thursday says a voter registration scheme that was expected to commence this month, could now take several months to complete.

The announcement comes just days after Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaore, said that Ivory Coast would be able to hold elections at the beginning of 2008, as suggested during Ouagadougou peace talks in March. Mr. Compaore was the main mediator in the talks between President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader, now prime minister, Guillaume Soro.

Recognition of Ivorian nationality and voting rights for northerners have been key rebel demands.

Georges Bayeto of Mr. Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front says that assuring all Ivorians are documented is crucial to having a free and fair election. He says that is why his party is okay with the decision to postpone.

"We are coming out of a crisis about the Ouagadougou arguments," he said. "We decided to go quickly for elections, but it is always good to have a good election and not having people disputing it."

Bayeto says that no one should be upset at the possibility of holding elections in October, as there was never a concrete date established. He says patience is necessary in order to prevent the Ivory Coast from making the same mistakes as other West African nations that have rushed elections.

"We need to go slowly," he added. "Then we can get everything all together and have a proper and well-organized election. We waited for five years with the international community trying to get out of beating around the bush. And then, for six months, Ivorians themselves sat and tried to find a solution to the crisis. Why should not we wait?"

Niamkey Koffi, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, says the reason the country should not wait for elections is because little progress is actually being made.

Koffi says October 2008 is too far in the future. He says that the registration of northerners should have begun earlier. He says Ivorians are getting tired of what he calls stalling.

"Ivory Coast, we are very tired of this kind of regime," he said. "We want to get away of this situation quickly. So, if the identification process can be accelerated, it will be very good for us."

Koffi says, that until an election takes place, every day that passes reduces the prosperity that Ivory Coast once had. He does not think most Ivorians will wait patiently while this happens.

"I think people will object, because most of them are very tired now," he added. "We are very tired of Gbagbo. He should go. We cannot afford to have him any more."

Ivory Coast was once decades ahead of its West African neighbors in terms of development and stability before conflict divided the nation in 2002.

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