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Former Ivory Coast President Returns Home

Former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie is set to fly home from exile Monday, almost two years after being overthrown in a military coup.

Mr. Bedie's expected return comes in the midst of a national reconciliation forum aimed at ending the political crisis triggered by his ouster in 1999.

Officials in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, say the former president will return home from Paris late Monday.

Aides to Mr. Bedie says he is coming home to help ease persistent political tensions and to reclaim control of his Ivory Coast Democratic Party, which also lost power in the 1999 coup.

Mr. Bedie has not said whether he will take part in the National Reconciliation Forum convened last week by President Laurent Gbagbo.

The international community has pressured Mr. Gbagbo and other Ivorian political leaders to mend relations and end the nearly two year old political crisis in the nation once considered among the most stable in West Africa.

Mr. Bedie took over the presidency in 1993 after 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 members of non-indigenous ethnic groups and Muslims from the presidency and high-level government positions.

But Mr. Bedie's successors have not altogether discarded "Ivoirite." Courts barred Muslim former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara from running for president last year because of questions about his Burkina Faso origins.

Hundreds of people died in riots after Muslims angry about the rulings against Mr. Ouattara took to the streets. But Mr. Gbagbo approved the court rulings, as did General Robert Guei, who led the 1999 coup.