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Ivory Coast Opposition, Rebels Quit Electoral Body

Opposition parties and northern rebels have pulled out of an independent commission charged with organizing elections later this year in divided Ivory Coast.

Representatives from the Ivorian opposition and members of the New Forces rebels say they no longer have faith in the newly-formed electoral commission. They decided to suspend their participation, saying the party of President Laurent Gbagbo is not living up to the French-mediated peace deal that created the commission.

The secretary-general of the opposition party known as the PDCI, Alphonse Djedje Mady, says the actions of the independent commission are being dominated by President Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front. He says the president's party modified prior agreements to try to ensure Mr. Gbagbo's victory in the presidential election scheduled for October.

These changes were enacted by parliament, but opposition parties say this goes against the 2003 peace agreement signed in France.

The establishment of an independent electoral commission is a central tenet of the peace accord.

The commission, which is composed of representatives from political and rebel groups, is charged with organizing free and fair elections in a country that has been divided for two-and-one-half years.

Human-rights lawyer and Gbagbo supporter, Patricia Hamza, denies Mr. Gbagbo's party is manipulating the commission. She says, in quitting the body, the opposition is only hurting itself.

"When they say, 'we do not [want to] be in the electoral commission,' it is not a good argument," she said. "And, if I can advise them, I can advise them to accept to be in this election. If you are not in the electoral commission, how can you control the election?"

One of the main problems has been the commission's composition. The opposition says prior agreements allotted six seats to three rebel factions, but parliament changed that to give rebels just two seats.

It also gave seats with the power of veto to a contingent representing the state, an action the opposition says should be reversed.

Mr. Mady insists the opposition bloc wants the election in October.

But, he says, the election must conform to the peace deal, and the opposition will not allow it to go ahead unless changes are made.