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Ivory Coast Political Crisis Deepens - 2003-09-24

The latest political dispute in Ivory Coast appears to be deepening, as some rebels are calling for independence for the part of the country they occupy. This follows the withdrawal Tuesday of the main rebel group from the government of national reconciliation.

President Laurent Gbagbo appears on the front page of the state-owned newspaper Fraternite Matin holding aloft two elephant tusks. The headline reads, "Here are the two reasons for the blockage!"

The connection between the rebels' withdrawal from the government and elephant tusks is not exactly clear. But the president is clearly ridiculing the reasons given by rebel leader Guillaume Soro for his group's withdrawal from the government.

The rebels accuse President Gbagbo of delaying implementation of the agreement, trying to put his political allies in key positions, and other violations. The president has also made insults that have been broadcast on national television, calling the former rebels, "kids with pistols and houseboys".

But Mr. Soro's men, who now call themselves the New Forces, control 60 percent of the country, and the people within those areas have largely thrown their support behind them. He said on Tuesday that his group was withdrawing from the government because of continuing delays in implementing a peace agreement negotiated last year. After the announcement, some leaders at the New Forces headquarters at the central city of Bouake began to call for secession from Ivory Coast.

The U.N. special representative in the country, Albert Tevoedjre, has tried to bring some calm to the situation. He has promised to hold discussion with all parties to seek a resolution.

Mr. Tevoedjre says he hopes the New Forces' withdrawal from the government can be reversed in a matter of days. But other observers say the issues, and the insults, could make that difficult.