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Tension Builds in Ivory Coast after Threatened Coup

Ivory Coast remains preoccupied by the threat of a coup by the former head of army Mathias Doue. Analysts are unsure if Mr. Doue has the support within the armed forces to force Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to leave office.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale Saturday, former army chief Mathias Doue said that Laurent Gbagbo should leave office, and if the international community is not willing to do it peacefully, he will force the president out by "all means." Mr. Doue added that he will be returning to the country in the next few days.

Since then, the commercial capital Abidjan has remained tense. Fireworks at a party Saturday evening were mistaken for gunfire, and many people living in the city believed the coup attempt had begun.

General Philippe Mangou, who replaced Mr. Doue as head of the Ivorian army, reacted to the statement. General Mangou said that the armed forces were loyal to "republican values." The general also told local journalists Wednesday that the media was to work for the "institutions legally put in place."

The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping mission in the war-divided country, issued a statement this week saying any incitement of hate and intolerance and attempts to block the peace process could lead the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions.

The New Forces rebels, who are in control of the north of the country, support Mr. Doue's threat. The spokesperson for the New Forces, Sidiki Konate, said that once President Gbagbo leaves office, the country would be able to hold fair elections.

"If the aim, the principal aim, is to take Mr. Gbagbo Laurent, to put him out of power and to put him out of Ivory Coast, I agree with him," said Mr. Konate.

However, analyst Chris Melville, from the research group Global Insight, is uncertain that Mr. Doue has enough support within the armed forces to carry out his threat. Mr. Melville says since Mr. Doue was dismissed in November 2004, the armed forces have been purged of any officers who might support him.

"Many of the officers who might once have been sympathetic to his more moderate cause have now been moved out of positions with operational influence," said Mr. Melville. "They've been replaced by officers who owe their promotion directly to the regime, to President Laurent Gbagbo."

Mr. Melville also says the Radio France interview with Mr. Doue was strange, because the former army chief has previously been a very circumspect and careful politician, without any flair for drama.

West Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group, Mike McGovern, agrees that it seems strange for someone to announce a coup, before mounting it. Mr. McGovern says that the interview may have been an attempt to get the international community to take the situation in Ivory Coast more seriously, because it is becoming quite fragile.

Mr. McGovern says that he does not believe the rumors that Mr. Doue could be backed by France or one of the countries in the region hostile to President Gbagbo's government.

"I think there's a great possibility that something like that could lead to large scale killings in Abidjan and possibly in other parts of the loyalist south of the country. And certainly if that were to happen both the UN mission and the French, with their presence in Cote D'Ivoire, would be blamed for that," added Mr. McGovern. "So it doesn't seem to be clear that this would serve anybody's purposes."

Mr. Doue's threat comes at a time when the country is meant to be preparing for October elections and engaged in a disarmament and demobilization process. One of the leading presidential candidates, Henri Konan Bedie, cancelled his return to Ivory Coast Wednesday, because of the risk of a coup.

Another disarmament deadline for the three largest militias in the West was also missed. In a prior interview with VOA, the head of one of the largest Western militias, Dennis Maho Gohefi said that Mr. Doue's threat increased security concerns, and put the disarmament deadline into question.

Ivory Coast's current crisis began in 2002, when a failed coup by a group of northern soldiers spiralled into civil war.