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Ivory Coast Ruling Party MPs Want Prime Minister Out

Parliamentary representatives from the party of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo are demanding the resignation of the prime minister following more than a week of violence in the country's volatile west. The move comes as rebels say the start date of a long-awaited disarmament process is no longer certain.

The group of parliament members from the ruling Ivorian Popular Front, known as the FPI, walked out of the National Assembly Tuesday, saying they would not return until Prime Minister Seydou Diarra had stepped down.

The group, which is headed by Simone Gbagbo, the wife of Ivory Coast's president, blames the prime minister for not doing enough to ensure the safety of Ivorians.

A spokesman, FPI deputy Claude Brissa, said the parliament members acted in protest to a recent wave of violence in Ivory Coast's volatile west that has left more than 70 people dead.

Mr. Brissa said the FPI deputies, who blame traditional northern hunters and rebels for the attacks, are demanding that the killings stop and that those responsible be found and brought to justice. Rebels have accused pro-Gbagbo western militias, while many citizens in the west blame the army, saying it is in control of the zone.

But the FPI deputies say the prime minister has failed to do his job by not disarming the rebels. And they say it's now time for him to step aside.

The decision by the FPI to walk out of parliament has dealt a blow to Ivory Coast's fragile peace. As part of a South African brokered peace deal meant to prepare the way for elections in October, parliament must change laws on nationality and the composition of an independent electoral commission for a presidential vote due in October.

New laws on those issues have already been passed, but peace mediator, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, said parliament, in doing so, had not respected the spirit of previous peace accords. The rebels, who are in control of the country's north, agree.

A spokesman for the rebel New Forces, Cisse Sindou, said a proposed June 27 start date for disarmament may no longer be feasible, since the election itself is now in doubt.

"Without any independent commission of elections and without new nationality, how are people going to vote? We're going to come to point zero, where in the Ivory Coast there's a classification of first and second class citizens, which is what we don't want," he said.

The FPI deputies are also calling for the dissolution of a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that separates the country's rebel held north and government controlled south, which they say is being used as a base by groups attacking the southern population.

A member of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, an opposition party that once ruled Ivory Coast, Claude Ahobaut, accuses FPI deputies of undermining the peace process. He says their walkout warrants punishment by the United Nations.

Mr. Ahobaut said holding elections in October will now be all but impossible. And he says, it doesn't matter if it is Mrs. Gbagbo or the president himself; anyone that impedes the peace process in Ivory Coast must be sanctioned.

Meanwhile, President Gbagbo, during a visit to Angola Monday, accused the United Nations of taking the side of the former colonial power, France, in passing last week's resolution authorizing sanctions against anyone hampering the peace process in Ivory Coast.

Around 4,000 French soldiers are in Ivory Coast as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.