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Ivory Coast Leader to Return From Medical Trip Sunday

This picture taken on a television screen in Abidjan on Feb. 27, 2014 shows Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara making an announcement during a broadcast by the Ivorian television from Paris.
Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara made his first public appearance in weeks on Thursday to say he would return home in three days, seeking to end speculation about his health after he traveled to France for an operation.

Ouattara, 72, who came to power after a brief post-election civil war in 2011, underwent a successful operation to alleviate pain caused by sciatica and is recuperating at his Parisian home, the government said last week.

“The president is well,” Ouattara said in a statement at the Ivorian Embassy in Paris that was broadcast on state television in Ivory Coast. “I will return on March 2.”

Reuters journalists at the embassy saw the president standing and speaking with reporters and staff inside. He walked with the help of a cane and left 20 minutes later.

“I had an operation for sciatica. I am no longer in any pain,” Ouattara said. “I am walking with a cane but not for much longer.”

The absence from daily political life of the normally highly visible Ouattara fueled rumors in Ivory Coast that his health problems were worse than officially stated, leading to concern over a potential succession battle.

Ivory Coast is emerging from a decade of political turmoil that saw the country divided between a rebel north and government-controlled south, fracturing society along political and ethnic lines.

Ouattara, an economist and former International Monetary Fund official, has been praised by donors for the rapid renaissance of what is French-speaking West Africa's largest economy and the world's top cocoa producer.

But the country still has potential for political instability due to slow progress towards national reconciliation and a failure to reform the army and police, analysts say.