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UN Empowers Ivory Coast PM To Lead Political Transition


The U.N. Security Council has given Ivory Coast's prime minister new powers during a one-year transition period leading to long-delayed elections. Ivorian officials expressed concern, saying the Council's action may violate the country's constitution.

The 15-member Council Wednesday extended Ivory Coast's transitional government for another year, and boosted the authority of the country's unelected Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny.

The Council unanimously adopted a resolution giving Banny control of Ivorian security forces. He will also have other powers as he tries to organize elections before next November.

A vote on the French-drafted measure was delayed after four Council members, including Russia, China and the United States. Some expressed concerns about the sweeping powers given to Banny.

The wording was eventually softened. Still, it strips Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo of much of his executive authority. At the same time, it endorses an African Union decision to allow Mr. Gbagbo to stay in office for another year.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere called the resolution a "good text that will help Ivorians" end their long-running political crisis. "What has happened in the past is that the prime minister was not empowered enough to push all the road map for this elections to take place, so we have stated clearly that it will not be any more possible to use any legal means to put obstacles now to the peace process, and this is very clear in the resolution. The prime minister is now empowered, and he will have the possibility to take decisions himself," he said.

Ivorian authorities, however, questioned the scope and the authority of the resolution. Ivorian Ambassador to the U.N. Philippe Djangone-Bi said he interprets language in the scaled-back measure to be consistent with the country's constitution, which vests authority in the president.

"In constitution of Cote d'Ivoire there is a provision saying clearly that as long as elections cannot be organized because of war, for instance, as is the case now, the president remains in power until new elections are held. We believe it is not to the Security Council to decide who should remain in power. This is clearly stated and resolved by our constitution, so the question is solved," he said.

President Gbagbo was elected to a five-year term in 2000. But war broke out two years later, dividing the country between the government-controlled south and the rebel-held north.

Elections scheduled for last year had to be postponed, and the U.N. extended Mr. Gbagbo's tenure. At the same time, it authorized Banny to oversee the transition to elections that were to be held no later than last month. But those elections also failed to happen.

About 10,000 French and U.N. troops are in the west African nation. Many of them are patrolling a buffer zone that separates the north from the south.