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Ivory Coast President Defends Weapons Purchases - 2003-05-21

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo says he is buying weapons for his military to prevent further coup attempts. Mr. Gbagbo is blaming previous presidents for leaving him with a weak army.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, President Gbagbo said he was applying a lesson he learned in Latin class, If you want peace, prepare for war.

Mr. Gbagbo said rebels who launched their insurgency in September had more weapons than his own army, making it vulnerable to coup attempts.

The president did not specify what exactly he was buying or for how much, but he said it was within the means of Ivory Coast.

Responding to critics who said he should spend money on schools instead, he said schoolchildren cannot learn anything if their schools are closed because of civil war.

The only purchase recently detailed by Ivory Coast authorities has been a $12 million contract with a Romanian company for four military helicopters.

On Tuesday, President Gbagbo also addressed the problem of young militant groups, seen by some as militias, that are opposed to the power-sharing peace process.

Mr. Gbagbo said their leaders had assured him they were not armed. But several militant leaders who did not meet the president have posed for Abidjan newspapers with weapons in their hands. Youth groups are planning a major protest Saturday in Abidjan against the presence of rebels in the government of national reconciliation.