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Ivory Coast President to Hold Talks with Opposition - 2004-06-26


Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo has invited leaders of the seven opposition and rebel groups to a meeting next week in an effort to reconstitute the defunct power-sharing government of national unity. The groups accepted the invitation on Saturday.

The meeting is to take place on Tuesday in the administrative capital Yamoussoukro, and it will include leaders of the seven groups that walked away from a power-sharing that was formed shortly after the signing of a peace agreement in January 2003.

President Gbagbo announced the meeting talks following his talks with Gabon's President Omar Bongo who is trying to help mediate the Ivorian crisis.

Presidential adviser Seri Bahy said he was optimistic that Tuesday's talks would be productive.

"All the parties have realized that staying away from each other eventually is not going to solve the problem so people need to sit down and talk," said Seri Bahy. "Now the time has worked on everybody so they're going to just address a certain number of minor points and then the government should be able to resume its work."

The agenda for the meeting includes a list of most pressing concerns submitted to the president by the coalition of opposition and rebel groups last March.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said his group, the New Forces, is ready for talks with the president.

"If Mr. Gbagbo wants to talk with us I don't see any problem because we already say that we want a dialogue but that must be a fruitful dialogue," he said. "We have to dialogue about very concrete points and these points today are in the memorandum."

The unity government fell apart earlier this year when opposition and rebel members walked out in dispute with the president's slow implementation of the peace plan.

The French-brokered peace plan ended a civil war, in which Ivory Coast was split between a rebel-held north and a government loyalist south. Several thousand French and U.N. peacekeepers help maintain a cease-fire between the two.

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