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Ivory Coast President Rebuffs Key Rebel Demands on Eve of Peace Talks


The president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, says he hopes French-mediated talks with rebel leaders in Paris this week will pave the way for lasting peace in the West African country. But in an interview with French radio Monday, Mr. Gbagbo rebuffed key rebel demands.

Mr. Gbagbo sounded both conciliatory and combative in an evening interview with France Info radio. He said he was willing to listen to rebel demands, and to grant amnesty to rebels, who now control roughly half of Ivory Coast, although he said he considered that unjust.

Mr. Gbagbo said he struggled in the political opposition for 30 years, without raising a weapon. The Ivorian president ruled out long-standing demands to call for legislative elections before 2005. And he refused to speculate on whether opposition leader Alassane Ouattara might be appointed to any future, national unity government.

President Gbagbo's interview comes on the eve of a much anticipated peace conference in Paris Wednesday. Government officials and rebels with two groups based in western Ivory Coast, signed a cease-fire, ahead of the Paris talks, pledging to avoid fighting while the talks are underway. Mr. Gbagbo expressed skepticism that the ceasefire would hold.

Mr. Gbagbo also said questions about holding a referendum on controversial issues like the concept of Ivorian nationality were false problems. Opposition leader Ouattara was excluded from the 2000 elections because of strict rules on nationality requirements.

Before rebel soldiers attempted a coup in September, sparking the rebellion, Mr. Gbagbo said, Ivory Coast had been on the road to economic recovery. Now, he said, was the time for economic growth and security to be restored, and for Ivory Coast to resume its place in the international community.

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