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Mediator Says Ivory Coast Needs Elections, Not Transition

South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota says that Ivory Coast's presidential elections could possibly be held in November

A South African mediator has rejected calls by Ivory Coast rebels and opposition groups for a transition government, following a U.N. determination that elections are nolonger possible in October. The mediator, South African's defense minister, says polls should be held before the end of the year.

South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota told journalists in Pretoria Wednesday that Ivory Coast's presidential elections could possibly be held in November.

The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, which patrols a buffer zone between the country's rebel-held north and government-controlled south, said earlier this month that the original October 30 date for polls would need to be pushed back.

Rebels had earlier said they would not allow elections in the north. And opposition parties accused President Laurent Gbagbo of manipulating laws to increase his chances at the polls. Some of these laws have since been changed, but have not yet been implemented.

Mr. Lekota rejected the proposal by opposition leaders to create a transitional government to take over from President Gbagbo when his term expires next month. He said there was no need to make a fresh start, saying the current government would stay in place.

Mr. Lekota's statement has angered opposition leaders. They say the minister does not speak for South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is heading the latest efforts to negotiate an end to Ivory Coast's three-year-old civil war.

A spokesman for one of the opposition parties, known by its French initials RDR, Cisse Bacongo, says the opposition leadership will wait for a response from Mr. Mbeki himself. He says, in spite of Mr. Lekota's remarks, the opposition has no intention of backing down from its demand for a transitional government.

Opposition figures in the last months have criticized Mr. Mbeki as siding with President Gbagbo. And the rebel New Forces have called for him to be replaced.

However, a member of President Gbagbo's communication team, Lambert Sery Bailly, says he is happy the South Africans are continuing to play an active role as mediators.

"It is their role to indicate to the international community what is important to the resolution of the Ivorian crisis," said Lambert Sery Bailly. "So, we are glad that they continue their efforts to assist us in resolving this crisis."

Mr. Sery Bailly says he agrees with Mr. Lekota's rejection of the proposed transitional government.

"For me, the opposition is just playing politics," he said. "Let us all be realistic. And let us prepare and give ourselves the chance to have elections. And I agree with the minister of South Africa when he says before the new year."

The United Nations is currently weighing whether to impose sanctions on those considered to be blocking the peace process in Ivory Coast. A new date for presidential elections has yet to be announced.