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Ivory Coast President Says He Will Not Step Aside in October


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has announced he will remain in power until presidential elections can be organized in the war-divided country. His, already extended, mandate expires in October, and the United Nations had been due to make a decision on his fate next month.

Speaking in a televised address marking the anniversary of his country's independence from France, President Laurent Gbagbo said he would not step aside in October, if a scheduled presidential election fails to take place.

He said that, conforming to the constitution, the president of the republic and the national assembly will continue to function until the next presidential and legislative elections.

Mr. Gbagbo's five-year elected term expired last year, when polls were deemed impossible, following a failure to disarm by northern rebels and southern militias loyal to the president.

The U.N. Security Council granted him a 12-month extension to his mandate to allow more time to organize polls. But many experts and observers now believe another election delay is unavoidable.

A U.N.-backed disarmament program was suspended Friday. And violent confrontations between youth supporters of the president and militant opposition groups have repeatedly stalled a controversial scheme aimed at identifying millions of undocumented Ivorians and foreign residents.

Both processes are prerequisites for elections.

During a visit to Ivory Coast last month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a decision on Mr. Gbagbo's fate would be made in the General Assembly in September. He said the body would make any changes to the election timetable at the same time.

In his speech, President Gbagbo hinted that an election delay was a possibility, but said polls should go ahead before the end of 2006.

We want elections, he said. We want elections, absolutely, before the end of this year.

Civil war erupted in Ivory Coast following a failed attempt by elements within the military to overthrow President Gbagbo in late 2002.

The New Forces rebels currently control the northern half of the country. And though both sides have agreed to a long series of peace deals dating back to 2003, none has ever been fully implemented.

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