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Ivory Coast President to Submit Key Constitutional Revision in Parliament


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has decided to submit a key constitutional revision to parliament. The move comes amid mediation efforts by South Africa's leader Thabo Mbeki, who has been trying to end the more than two years of civil war.

Speaking early Saturday on state television, presidential spokesman Desire Tagro said Mr. Gbagbo had abided by the wishes of Mr. Mbeki to submit the revised article 35 to parliament immediately.

Spokesman Tagro said the decision was made so that Ivory Coast could be disarmed and reunited.

Mr. Tagro says the next steps would be a referendum on the article and then free and fair presidential elections in late 2005.

Rebels say changes to article 35 are needed to ensure that popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara is allowed to participate. He has been barred from previous elections due to doubts over his nationality.

But rebels have said President Gbagbo should make the change by decree rather than referendum. They have refused to disarm, saying they lack trust in Mr. Gbagbo to implement successive peace deals which would broaden rights for many northerners.

The announcement came as Mr. Mbeki met with lawmakers Saturday.

During heated debate earlier this week, an advance parliamentary committee voted in favor of a new independent electoral commission, but one that is different of what was called for in the peace deals.

Instead of granting six seats to the rebels on this commission, the new text gives them three seats. It also establishes nine new seats, which will be filled by allies of the president.

The head of the ruling party's parliamentary group, Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the president, told lawmakers her party had to wait 30 years before attaining power, and that others may now have to wait just as long.

Mr. Gbagbo violated an 18-month cease-fire last month by bombing northern rebel targets, as well as a base of French peacekeepers. He said he wanted to end the rebel threat and move forward with the stalled peace process.

Rebels have called on him to resign saying he is leading Ivory Coast to ruin. They will meet with Mr. Mbeki in their stronghold of Bouake on Sunday.

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