Ivory Coast's four main political leaders have emerged from a two-day meeting pledging to continue discussions aimed at ending the West African country's festering political crisis.
The gathering in Ivory Coast's political capital, Yamoussoukro, marked the first time that President Laurent Gbagbo has met with his top political adversaries: opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and former military ruler General Robert Guei.
Also present at the gathering was former President Henri Konan Bedie, who was ousted in the country's first military coup in 1999.
Perhaps the most contentious of the issues discussed at the meeting was Mr. Ouattara's request for new elections in which he would be allowed to participate. Mr. Ouattara was barred from running in presidential elections that returned Ivory Coast to civilian rule in October 2000.
Speaking at the end of the gathering, Mr. Ouattara stressed he will continue to press the issue of new elections. This is not the last meeting, so we're going to have an opportunity to discuss some of these issues again," he said. "It does not mean that we agreed on everything. There are some issues that need to be discussed further, and the election issue is one of them."
The country's supreme court disqualified Alassane Ouattara from running in the 2000 elections, citing doubts about whether he was of full Ivorian nationality. Since his return two months ago from a self-imposed exile, Mr. Ouattara has demanded that the Gbagbo government issue him a certificate of nationality. The action would pave the way for Mr. Ouattara, who is widely popular among Ivory Coast's large population of ethnic Dioulas, to run for the presidency in the next election, currently scheduled for 2005.
The meeting in Yamoussoukro was part of an effort by the Gbagbo government to convince the international community that political stability is returning to Ivory Coast. The country was once considered one of West Africa's most prosperous nations. But over the past two years, it has been the scene of political demonstrations that have left hundreds dead.
The Ivorian economy has been in decline for the past decade, due largely to a fall in world prices of cocoa, the country's main export. Problems worsened after the 1999 military coup, which resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in economic aid and investment from western nations.
The Gbagbo government hopes that by showing the international community that political stability has returned to Ivory Coast, aid and investment will fully resume.