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Bedie Ends Exile, Returns Home to Ivory Coast - 2001-10-15


Former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie has returned home, almost two years after he was overthrown in a military coup. The former president's homecoming takes place in the midst of national peace talks, aimed at ending the political turmoil triggered by his ouster.

Thousands of supporters formed a line stretching three kilometers along the road from Abidjan's international airport, as Mr. Bedie returned home late Monday, after his 22-month self-imposed exile in Paris.

Aides to the former president say he has come home to reclaim control of the Ivory Coast Democratic Party. He officially remained the party's leader throughout his absence.

Mr. Bedie has said he has no immediate plans to take part in the National Reconciliation Forum convened last week by current President Laurent Gbagbo, to to bridge the country's deep social and political divide. The international community has pressured Ivory Coast's political leaders to end the crisis, triggered by Mr. Bedie's ouster from power two years ago.

Whether or not he takes part in the forum, Mr. Bedie will find a country vastly different from the one he led from 1993-1999.

Ivory Coast, once considered the most stable nation in West Africa, has since experienced a military coup and seen hundreds of people lose their lives in riots resulting from growing ethnic tensions.

Mr. Bedie took over the presidency upon the death of Ivory Coast's founding head of state, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. As President, he promoted the concept of "Ivoirite," or "Ivorianness," under which southern Christians enhanced their control of the country's political life.

Critics charge that Mr. Bedie's policies increased ethnic tensions and effectively barred northern Muslims or immigrant stock from the presidency and other high level positions.

However, tensions persisted under Mr. Bedie's successors. Courts barred Muslim former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara from running for president last year, stating he is from Burkina Faso. Mr. Gbagbo approved the court rulings, as did General Robert Guei, who led the 1999 coup.

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