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Ivory Coast President Says Country Moving Toward Elections


The president of Ivory Coast says his country is on track to hold much delayed presidential elections and is moving beyond the violence that contributed to repeatedly postponing that vote.

President Laurent Gbagbo says the success of the just-concluded African Development Bank meeting in Abidjan shows that Ivory Coast is making progress toward resolving its political crisis.

Opposition leaders planned to protest the long delayed vote during the bank's annual general meeting, but agreed to delay those demonstrations after talks with President Gbagbo. He says that shows Ivory Coast is moving forward.

President Gbagbo says: "Trust us, the Ivorian crisis is over, have confidence in us." He says what unites the sons and daughters of the country is much stronger than what can divide them. The president says the unity that was shown by Ivorian politicians when it came to the African Development Bank meeting is a good sign and a message.

The African Development Bank moved its headquarters from Abidjan in 2003, after a brief civil war divided the country. President Gbagbo's mandate expired in 2005 but he remains in power because elections meant to reunite the country have been postponed eight times.

Most recently, President Gbagbo dissolved the government and dismissed the electoral commission in February because he said officials were illegally registering as many as 400,000 people.

A new electoral commission is now distributing provisional voter lists that include the names of more than one million people who must prove their Ivorian citizenship. Independent Electoral Commission President Sanogo Tidiane says those potentially-eligible voters are on a so-called a grey list.

The grey list includes the names of people whose status as electoral voters is not yet defined, principally because of questions about nationality. He says those people need to present documentary evidence to prove their identity and their right to vote.

Questions of nationality in Ivory Coast focus primarily on immigrants from Burkina Faso and Mali. The electoral code was amended 15 years ago to bar candidates if either of their parents were not originally from Ivory Coast or if the candidate had not lived in the country for the preceding five years.

That disqualified former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, who returned to the International Monetary Fund when Henri Konan Bedie took power in 1993. Ouattara was blocked again in 1999 when his nationality certificate was annulled and an arrest warrant issued in connection with its alleged forgery.

Ouattara, Bedie, and President Gbagbo are all candidates for this next vote, which regional diplomats hope will be held this year.

The UN Security Council last week extended the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast through the end of June.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he is disappointed by repeated setbacks in the peace process and believes the UN force should increase troop concentration in high-risk areas to better support plans for elections.

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