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Opposition Criticizes Ivory Coast Peace Plan

Opposition parties in Ivory Coast have criticized the peace plan proposed by African leaders at Tuesday's African Union summit. They fear a continuation of the current deadlock between the president and the rebels.

According to major Ivorian opposition parties, the recommendations made by the AU Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa are not going to enable the necessary breakthrough in the flagging peace process.

The Peace and Security Council said President Laurent Gbagbo is to stay in power for another year, with Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny also keeping his position.

AU President Denis Sassou Nguesso said the prime minister's powers would be increased, so he can do his job more easily.

Essentially this means organizing free and fair elections, which will reunite Ivory Coast. The main hurdles to be overcome before this can take place are the disarmament of northern rebels, western militias and some government soldiers, and the identification of millions of Ivorians without official documents, which will lead to new electoral lists.

One such power, the council's communiqué says, will be the necessary authority over all government armed forces for Banny to carry out his duties. Details on how exactly this will happen were not immediately revealed.

The Rally of the Republicans deputy secretary general, Amadou Soumahoro, tells VOA the African Union did not address the key issue.

He says, if you give the prime minister more power, but do not suspend the constitution, which gives the same powers to the president, he says, the division of power becomes unclear.

Many opposition figures have lost faith in Banny, saying he caved in to pressure from President Gbagbo when faced with difficult decisions.

Soumahoro says he still trusts Banny, but he must now show his mettle.

He says, they hope that if Banny receives the necessary powers, he will not let himself be dominated by Mr. Gbagbo. After all, he says, he has the support of the international community and the people.

Mr. Sassou Nguesso said Banny's cabinet, which is made up of ministers from all the major parties including the New Forces rebels, will have the power of decree in order to push through necessary decisions. This power is already held and has been used by President Gbagbo.

What has come as a relief to the opposition and rebels alike, is the resignation of South African President Thabo Mbeki as AU mediator in Ivory Coast.

He is to be replaced by the presidents of the West African grouping ECOWAS, the African Union, and the AU Commission.

Soumahoro says, West African leaders know Ivory Coast's situation very well, because, he says, they follow all the events closely. He adds that they have faith that a West African leader will be able to make the necessary suggestions to find a peaceful solution to Ivory Coast's situation.

The secretary-general of Mr. Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front declined to comment immediately.

Ivory Coast has been divided since the New Forces occupied the north after a failed coup in 2002. They say northerners rights are not being respected and Mr. Gbagbo was elected on the basis of inaccurate electoral lists in 2000.

The AU recommendations will be handed over the U.N. Security Council.