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Ivorian President Offers Plan to End Civil War - 2002-12-31

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has laid out his plan for ending the country's three-month old civil war. But his nationally televised speech was more confrontational than conciliatory.

President Gbagbo says starting on Wednesday, January 1, he will consult with Ivorian politicians as well as other West African leaders to find a way out of the civil war that threatens to destabilize the entire region.

The president's 15-minute speech was billed as the presentation of a peace plan, but he barely mentioned the proposal. He showed little inclination to compromise with the rebels who hold the northern and western parts of the country.

Mr. Gbagbo demanded that the rebels lay down their arms, and he said negotiations will only begin after that has happened.

He says he will continue to fight, until in his words, the country recovers its territorial integrity.

Mr. Gbagbo said the rebels have backed themselves into a corner, both militarily and politically. He said the Ivorian government has the support of the entire international community.

The Ivorian leader spoke to the nation New Year's Eve on state television and radio. But it is not clear how many Ivorians were listening.

The government relaxed its dusk-to-dawn curfew for the holiday, giving people until midnight to ring in the new year. Usually, everyone has to be off the streets by 7 p.m. local time, or they risk being shot by soldiers enforcing the curfew.

Hundreds of people could be seen roaming the streets of Abidjan as the president began his speech, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to spend a night on the town.