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Gabonese President Participating in Talks to End Ivory Coast Political Stalemate - 2004-07-02

Ivory Coast's prime minister, rebels and political leaders are meeting with the president of Gabon Friday in an effort to end political stalemate in the divided Ivory Coast.

Meetings opened Friday in Libreville, Gabon's capital, amid intense diplomatic pressure on Ivory Coast's political leaders to resolve their political differences and restart the deadlocked peace process.

Among those attending the talks brokered by Gabon's President Omar Bongo is Alassane Ouattara, an opposition leader who was barred from the last presidential election because of doubts over his nationality.

The uncertain legal status of most people in the north of the country, including Mr. Ouattara, was among the grievances that led to the 2002 uprising against President Laurent Gbagbo.

Many people in the north are supporters of Mr. Ouattara, who is living in France.

Gabon's President Bongo is also meeting with rebel leaders and Prime Minister Seydou Diarra.

In separate talks, members of the opposition and Mr. Gbagbo met in Abidjan for two days earlier this week, but no breakthroughs were reported.

The head of the opposition delegation, Alphonse Dje Dje Mady, Thursday outlined his side's conditions for further talks.

He said that Mr. Gbagbo needs to delegate more powers to Prime Minister Diarra. He also said President Gbagbo needs to reinstate the three opposition and rebel ministers he fired from the unity government last May. Among the ministers the president fired is the leader of the northern rebels, Guillaume Soro.

The volatile situation in Ivory Coast will be discussed at next week's Africa Union summit in Ethiopia, which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is attending.

The U.N. has been sharply critical of the political infighting in Ivory Coast, and even threatened the country with sanctions if it does not begin implementing the 18-month-old peace agreement.