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Ex-Ivorian Military Ruler Holds President Responsible for Violence


Ivory Coast's former military ruler made his first speech to Ivorians since a popular uprising forced him from power a year ago.

General Robert Guei denied responsibility for the electoral violence that wracked Ivory Coast last year. Instead, he accused President Laurent Gbagbo of provoking the unrest that led to hundreds of deaths.

The former ruler, who was ousted from power shortly after the election, made the remarks Monday at a forum for national reconciliation that began several weeks ago in Abidjan.

Ivorians have lived through nearly two years of political tension since General Guei led the country's first coup in December 1999, and they were eager to hear what General Guei would say to the reconciliation forum.

Mr. Bokary, a 45-year-old janitor, liked the speech."It was interesting," said Mr. Bokary. "He spoke well. He was able to go before the Ivorian people and speak from his heart. I hope people remain calm and can agree to wait four years until the next elections." Mr. Bokary said, "if General Guei spoke the truth, then there is no reason for President Gbagbo to be angry."

But supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo thought otherwise. Huddled around a favorite speaker's corner in downtown Abidjan, they expressed their outrage. Clement Ado, a 26-year-old student, said the general would have done better not to address the forum at all.

Mr. Ado said, "I have heard everything he had to say already. Ivorians had been wasting their time listening to General Guei. It is disappointing to be reminded that he ruled for 10 months. Just think," added Mr. Ado, "if he was still in power, the country would be in complete chaos."

After President Gbagbo and former President Henri Konan Bedie, the former military ruler is the third of Ivory Coast's four main political leaders to address the forum.

Ivorians are now waiting to see if the country's leading opposition figure, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, will appear before the forum.

Adama Bamba, an office worker, believes the reconciliation forum will be a failure if Mr. Ouattara does not take part. "So long as the fourth personality of Ivorian politics, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, is not entirely included in the main political decisions of this country, the same problems will just crop up again and again,"Mr. Bamba said.

Mr. Ouattara, who is living in France, has refused to attend the forum, saying he has not received enough security guarantees from the Ivorian government. But there are indications that Mr. Ouattara is reconsidering his decision and may attend after all.

The forum ends December 10.