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Former Ivorian Prime Minister Returns Home From Self-Imposed Exile - 2001-11-30

In Ivory Coast, thousands of people lined the streets of the main city, Abidjan, to welcome returning opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. The former prime minister arrived back in the West African country Friday, following a self-imposed exile in France.

Thousands of Ouattara supporters filled the streets of Abidjan and the city's airport, cheering and chanting "ADO," as the opposition leader is known to his supporters.

Alassane Ouattara, who draws most of his support from the Muslim northern Dioulas - Ivory Coast's largest ethnic group, has been at the heart of a political impasse that has resulted in outbreaks of violence on several occasions over the past year.

He fled the country after the supreme court disqualified him from running in presidential and legislative elections due to what the court said were doubts about his nationality. Observers at the time said the court's ruling was a move by the government of then-military ruler General Robert Guei to keep Mr. Ouattara from running against the general in the presidential elections.

Mr. Ouattara has come back to Ivory Coast following an invitation from President Gbagbo to take part in a forum for national reconciliation. The forum aims to end the political crisis that has gripped the country since its first-ever military coup in December of 1999.

Mr. Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans party has continued to insist that new presidential elections be held, in which Mr. Ouattara is allowed to participate.

The opposition leader had at first refused to take part in the forum, demanding that the government first issue him a certificate of citizenship that formally recognized him as a full Ivorian national.

The government has not complied with the request. But political pressure built up on Mr. Ouattara to participate in the forum, after two of his political rivals, General Guei and deposed President Henri Konan Bedie, attended and spoke.

Mr. Ouattara is due to address the reconciliation forum on Saturday.