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Ivory Coast Begins to Form New Government - 2003-02-11

Ivory Coast's new prime minister has begun work to form a new coalition government, as part of a deal to end a nearly five month war in the West African country.

Prime Minister Seidou Diarra is to meet with President Laurent Gbagbo to discuss a draft proposal for a new government in Ivory Coast.

The investiture of Mr. Diarra, at a summit of West African leaders Monday in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, marked the first concrete step taken to implement a peace accord reached in France more than two weeks ago.

At the summit, the new prime minister handed President Gbagbo a draft proposal for a new government.

Mr. Diarra said he would spend the next few days meeting with leaders of all political parties and the rebel groups to begin putting together a final proposal for a coalition government.

The prime minister said he has been authorized to begin official consultations with political parties and will be submitting a final list of people who will make up the new government of national reconciliation.

Though Mr. Diarra is from the north of Ivory Coast, where the rebels are in control, he is widely regarded as being politically neutral. He is under pressure from rebels, who have previously claimed the accord entitled them to the key ministries of defense and the interior.

The prospect of giving those ministries to the rebels touched off two weeks of sometimes-violent protests by the president's supporters, who said they did not want rebels in high positions. The protesters demanded that Mr. Gbagbo reject the accord.

Friday, President Gbagbo sought to appease his supporters by giving a speech in which he said he would work to abide by the spirit of the accord. But suggested he might not implement it to the letter of the law if it violated the country's constitution.

West African leaders leaving the summit Monday said they were optimistic that Mr. Gbagbo would fully implement the accord and end a war that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

Friday, the rebels gave the president a seven-day ultimatum to apply the accord fully or face new attacks.

As part of his consultations, Prime Minister Diarra is expected to travel this week to rebel headquarters in the central city of Bouake to discuss the insurgents' role in the new government.