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Ivory Coast Celebrates New Year Amid Hopes for Peace - 2002-12-31

Residents of Ivory Coast are ringing in the new year under the shadow of civil war. One bright spot, however, is the easing of the curfew to allow people to celebrate New Year's Eve. Ivorians are hoping 2003 will bring them peace.

In a busy marketplace in Abidjan's Adjame neighborhood, shoppers are preparing to celebrate the start of a new year.

The last night of the year, known to many here as Saint Sylvester, is usually one of the most festive of holidays. In government-held areas, the curfew, which normally takes effect at 7:00 p.m., has been pushed back to midnight. Reports from rebel held zones say the curfew there has been lifted completely.

So people have one night of relative freedom to say goodbye to 2002, a year that many are anxious to see end. It was the year that brought civil war to Ivory Coast for the first time.

In the marketplace, Youssouf Sidibe said there are many problems in Ivory Coast this year.

He said nothing is going well, but he hopes peace will return to Ivory Coast, so, in his words, "we can live like we did in the old days."

The easing of the curfew for New Year's Eve was not announced until mid afternoon. So many Ivorians had already made plans for a more sedate holiday than usual.

For those with the money to afford it, luxury hotels are offering New Year specials, a room and an all night party that includes champagne and oysters. The 650 room Hotel Ivoire, for example, is nearly fully booked for the holiday.

Some people have invited a few friends to spend the night so they can ring in the new year together. But most Ivorians, like Mr. Sidibe, say they will celebrate Saint Sylvester with their families.

Most Ivorians also say they are praying that 2003 will be a year of peace at last for their troubled country.

Abidjan resident Denis Beugre asks the rebels and government loyalists to find a peaceful solution. He said he wants the people of Ivory Coast to work together, and forget about the problem of "Ivorite."

"Ivorite" or "Ivorianness" is the concept of nationality that has in part led to the current crisis, dividing the country over who deserves the right to be called an Ivorian citizen.

Another shopper spoke for many when she said she wants God to bless the leaders of Ivory Coast, so they can guide the country and the people toward peace.