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Ivory Coast Prime Minister Faces Challenges in Naming Cabinet

The new prime minister for divided Ivory Coast is facing his first major challenge in forming a government that can lead the country to disarmament, democratic reform, and elections before October 2006.

With deadlines in about 10 months, former regional banker Charles Konan Banny, is trying to find adequate ministers for his new cabinet.

He has been to the capitals of the three African countries mediating the crisis, Niger, South Africa, and Nigeria, as well as neighboring Burkina Faso, which Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has accused of backing the rebels.

In Pretoria, speaking through a female interpreter, he congratulated South African President Thabo Mbeki for the work he has done since full-scale violence flared again in northern and southern Ivory Coast in November 2004. This includes allowing opposition leaders banned in the 2000 presidential election to run in the next poll.

"Because he has done a remarkable job, and he has done a gigantic, big job," said Mr. Banny. "And whether we want it or not, it is thanks to this enormous task that we have got to where we are. We have achieved an important step by appointing a prime minister. That does not mean we have reached the end of our efforts and in order to go further in this difficult mission, it seemed to me wise to come to the president; firstly to introduce myself to him and to tell him how I perceive the mission to be."

Returning from his trip abroad, Mr. Banny resumed negotiations with President Gbagbo, northern-based rebels and opposition parties.

Mr. Banny wants no more than 30 ministers, down from over 40 in the previous ineffective government, and parties have said they dislike his method of asking for large lists from which he can choose, rather than directly selecting their choices.

Of particular sensitivity are the posts of defense, interior and finance. Opposition newspapers say choices there will show whether he has control over the government, as indicated he should in the latest U.N resolution.

Mr. Banny will also have to find a place for rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who was seeking to be prime minister, and as communication minister in the previous government, never had proper security in the south.

President Gbagbo was given an extra year to his mandate, after elections could not be held as scheduled in October 2005.

The parliament, accused by rebels of blocking new laws that would allow more northerners to vote, is also seeking an extension.