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Ivorian Parliament OKs Looser Nationality Rule for Presidential Candidates

Members and supporters of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party protest against President Alassane Ouattara's new constitution, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Oct. 8, 2016. The banner reads, "No to Ouattara constitution."

Ivory Coast's parliament on Tuesday approved changing the constitution to ease nationality rules for presidential candidates, a move the government says will end prolonged instability but which the opposition says is undemocratic.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara promised during his reelection campaign last year to remove the constitution's requirement for presidential candidates to have parents who are both native-born Ivorians — a sore point in a country that has long attracted immigrants from neighboring states in West Africa.

Nationality was at the heart of a crisis that began with a 1999 coup and ballooned into a 2002-2003 civil war that split the major cocoa-producing country in two for eight years.

The new proposals soften the nationality clause, which had been used by Ouattara's opponents to bar him from elections and was a symbol of exclusion, particularly of northerners like him whose family ties often straddle borders.

Of 250 members of parliament, 239 voted for the constitutional change while eight voted against and two abstained. The measure will now go to a referendum Oct. 30.

Other revisions included removing a maximum age of 75 for presidential candidates and making it easier to change the constitution in the future.

Opposition politicians and some civil society groups have opposed the changes. Pascal Affi N'Guessan, the head of the main opposition FPI party, criticized the proposed creation of the post of vice-president and a senate, a third of whose members would be appointed by the president, among other changes.

Opposition supporters demonstrated against the draft constitution on Saturday and promised to do so again if it was passed by parliament.