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Ivory Coast Leader Promises Election by Year End

In Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo has said it is possible to hold the country's long-awaited presidential election by this December. But there are concerns that unresolved problems in the still-divided country will make it hard to hold a fair election by the end of the year. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West African Bureau in Dakar.

On the eve of independence day celebrations Tuesday, President Laurent Gbagbo announced on state television the possibility of holding the presidential election within the next five months.

President Gbagbo said the country must get past its political crisis with a transparent election and asked Prime Minister Guillaume Soro to organize it as soon as possible.

The two former opponents signed a peace accord earlier this year that brought rebel leader Mr. Soro into the government, called for disarmament, and previewed elections by early 2008.

But political analyst Daniel Balint-Kurti, with the London-based Chatham House, says there are too many problems in Ivory Coast to guarantee a transparent election so soon.

"It is a very complicated process," he said. "To do it all by December 2007 with everybody feeling it is being done correctly is an enormous challenge. There is a lot to do."

Recognition has been a key rebel demand on behalf of millions of people living in Ivory Coast who are currently unable to vote. Balint-Kurti says getting them national identity cards and creating a voter list has been a slow process.

In his televised speech, President Gbagbo said the country must not give the impression it is delaying elections, which he said are necessary to give its leaders legitimacy.

But analyst Balint-Kurti says the rush to hold the already twice-delayed election may be because if President Gbagbo were to run, his chances of winning are now high.

"There are a number of things that have gone [President] Gbagbo's way. He may feel now is the time. His popularity is probably as high as it ever is going to be so he feels probably now is the time to hold those elections," he said.

The analyst says Mr. Gbagbo has been helped by the reduction of French troops in Ivory Coast, the rebel commitment to disarm, and the fact that an interim, rather than a permanent, U.N. peacekeeping mission leader has been stationed in Ivory Coast.

The country has been split in half since rebels seized the north nearly five years ago.