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Ivory Coast Creates Coalition Government - 2002-08-06


Members of Ivory Coast's main opposition party, the Rally of the Republicans, have taken positions in a new coalition government. The decision by President Laurent Gbagbo to share power with the opposition helps ease a political crisis that has been festering in the West African country for the past two years.

The decision by President Gbagbo marks the first time in more than two years that the Rally of the Republicans, the party of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, has a significant role in the central Ivory Coast government.

Mr. Ouattara served as prime minister under the late longtime President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. He was barred from running in the last presidential elections, in 2000, because of what the country's Supreme Court said were doubts about whether he was of full Ivorian nationality.

His exclusion from the presidential race has remained at the heart of an impasse between the Gbagbo government and Mr. Ouattara's party. The RDR's support lies among northern Dioulas, Ivory Coast's single largest ethnic group of which Mr. Ouattara is a member. Dioulas, who are mainly Muslims, have accused Christian southerners of trying to keep them out of national politics in recent years.

The new so-called "unity government" was established under the terms of an accord that was reached by all of Ivory Coast's major political players during the country's transition to civilian rule two years ago, following its first-ever military coup in 1999.

The new administration has 37 ministries, nine of them newly-created. Twenty of the jobs are held by the ruling Ivorian Popular Front party and the rest were given to the opposition.

President Gbagbo handed the RDR the reins of four ministries, including transport. The move was seen as a way to ease tensions in the wake of a crippling strike last month by members of the country's transport industry, which is largely dominated by northerners. The strike was called in response to the killing by police of a taxi driver who was a northerner.

The new government was announced following weeks of consultations between President Gbagbo and members of the opposition.

RDR officials last week said they would negotiate a power-sharing agreement with Mr. Gbagbo if the government offered assurances that it would not hamper Alassane Ouattara's efforts to run for president in the next elections, scheduled for 2005.

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