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Ivory Coast President Opens Election to All

Laurent Gbagbo
Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo says he will allow all candidates to run in a presidential election later this year in accordance with a South African brokered peace process. But he vows to use special constitutional powers to resolve, what he called, "the country's problems".

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo opened the speech, broadcast on national television late Tuesday, with an attack on the rebels that have occupied the northern half of the country for more than two years. He said the nation had suffered aggression at their hands and that despite previous peace deals they had refused to disarm.

But he said he has always been in favor of negotiations. And after consulting with the Ivorian people, he had decided to agree to the demands of the conflict's latest mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

President Gbagbo said in his speech that there is one problem keeping Ivory Coast from solving its crisis, the candidacy of popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. Ouattara was excluded from running in the election that brought Mr. Gbagbo to power in 2000. And because of a controversial article in Ivory Coast's constitution concerning nationality requirements, there has been continuing doubt over his candidacy.

Mr. Gbagbo said that, for the 2005 election only, he would allow Mr. Ouattara to participate.

At peace talks in South Africa's administrative capital Pretoria earlier this month, President Mbeki asked Mr. Gbagbo to use special constitutional powers to allow all signatories to previous peace deals to contest the presidential election set for October

President Gbagbo had previously said that constitutional article 48, which allows the head of the state to make decrees when the nation's integrity is threaten, did not apply to the civil war.

But, on Tuesday, he changed his mind.

Near the end of his speech, Mr. Gbagbo said there were many problems he had not addressed. He said, until the crisis was resolved he would continue to use his special powers under article 48 to solve those problems as they arise.

The move came as the United Nations Security Council was convening in New York to decide whether to grant a request for additional troops for its peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

Around 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers and another 4,000 French soldiers are currently in Ivory Coast. Most patrol a cease-fire line between the rebel held north and west and the government controlled south.

At least two people were killed Tuesday, when fighting broke out between rival ethnic groups in the western town of Guiglo.