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Ivory Coast Parties Wait on Peace Accord

South African President Thabo Mbeki, right, and his Ivory Coast counterpart, Laurent Gbagbo, left, during a meeting in Pretoria
Many parties in Ivory Coast are being very cautious about evaluating Wednesday's peace deal signed in Pretoria. Key points which have not been agreed upon are eligibility of candidates in elections and exact dates for rebel and militia disarmament.

Returning from peace talks in South Africa, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo said he was satisfied with the new agreement on disarmament and elections.

Mr. Gbagbo said that the disarmament process will be relaunched at an agreed date and that once that process begins, elections can be held in October. If the constitution is not changed, then, Mr. Gbagbo says he cannot complain.

Ivory Coast's constitution currently contains an article, Article 35, saying that both the mother and father of a presidential candidate must be Ivorian. It also says a candidate should never have held another nationality. The article has been used to prevent popular opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, whose parents come from northern Ivory Coast, near Burkina Faso, from running.

At the airport in Abidjan, Mr. Gbagbo emphasized several times that he did not want the constitution to be changed. He said that his role as head of state was to defend the constitution.

During the Pretoria conference, after the parties failed to agree on changing Article 35, South African President and mediator, Thabo Mbeki, said he would decide himself on eligibility requirements for the presidency. He said he would make this decision after consultations with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and African Union head Olusegun Obasanjo and communicate it to Ivorian leaders.

All parties to Ivory Coast's crisis promised to formally end hostilities in the document signed Tuesday in Pretoria. Major fighting between northern rebels and the army ended in 2003, but resumed for several days with government aerial attacks in November 2004.

Other signatories to the new accord include the leader of the Force Nouvelles rebels, Guillame Soro, opposition leader Alassane Outtara, and former president Henri Konan Bedie.

Mr. Bedie said that the agreement needs what he calls "small adjustments", but that it was almost "the ultimate accord." Mr. Bedie was also barred from running in the most recent election.

The foreign minister from the colonial power France, Michel Barnier, also welcomed the deal. He said that it could set what he called "the conditions for a definitive exit from the crisis."

Ivory Coast is the world's leading cocoa producer and the main economy among former French colonies.

Critics of the accord like Senegalese political analyst Alioune Dine say the agreement is nothing new, and repeats the commitments brokered in the Linas-Marcoussis accord that was brokered by the French government in 2003.

Mr. Dine says that although there is a date for disarmament to begin next month, it in fact is a date for another series of negotiations about disarmament.

"They don't respect their word," he said. "What they say, what they sign [in] their agreement. Now I think that they strengthen armaments on both sides."

In Ivory Coast, dozens of Gbagbo's supporters known as the Young Patriots demonstrated outside an opposition party headquarters in the commercial district of Cocody in Abidjan late Wednesday.

The secretary-general for the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast youth wing, Michel Benoit Koffi, said he believes that the demonstration was linked to concessions that Mr. Gbagbo signed in Pretoria to disarm all militias.

Mr. Koffi says that the protest was something that was not spontaneous but organized. He said that the group of youths shouted threats but the demonstration did not turn into something more serious.

The Marcoussis deal as well as other accords that updated Marcoussis were quickly met with violent protests in the government-run south.