A speech by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to break off with years of international mediation to end the country's civil war is dividing Ivorians. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar, with reporting by Guillaume Michel in Abidjan.

One government-run newspaper said the speech late Tuesday was like an electric shock.

Opposition newspapers said Mr. Gbagbo had backed away from more extremist positions being suggested by his side.

In the speech, the president, whose term has been extended since 2005 for lack of elections, said all mediation attempts had failed.

He said he wanted to speak directly with rebels, while also getting rid of a buffer zone between the government-held south and rebel-held north. That zone is manned by U.N. peacekeepers and a French rapid reaction force.

An activist for Mr. Gbagbo's party, Konate Navigue, says he thinks the speech was great.

"We think that now we have to give an internal solution to our crisis because during four years we have not gotten a solution with the international community," he said. "So now we have an internal solution and that is the issue the president gave."

But a businessman in Abidjan, Amadou, says even if these sound like new ideas to some, to him it sounds like Mr. Gbagbo is desperate.

He says Mr. Gbagbo is at a dead end and feels threatened. He also says getting rid of the buffer zone would just lead to army attacks against rebels.

An opposition activist, Timithee Ali Baba, agrees.

"All that he wants is he wants to attack the rebels. He wants to attack. That is why he wants the international forces to leave the positions that they have," he said.

An opposition leader said Ivory Coast should continue following the U.N. established peace plan that calls for free and fair elections before October 2007.

There was no immediate reaction from the northern-based rebels or from the U.N.-appointed Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. He was tasked in the latest U.N Security Council resolution in November to organize disarmament and a national identification scheme.

U.N and French rapid reaction force officials said they are still studying Mr. Gbagbo's speech.

Rebels have said they will not disarm until millions of undocumented northerners are given voting cards. Agreements to give citizenship to northerners now considered as foreigners have been included in successive peace deals, but never implemented.

Rebels accuse Mr. Gbagbo of agreeing to, but then blocking peace agreements.

The world's number-one cocoa producer has been divided in two since the rebellion started in late 2002. Major fighting quickly stopped with the arrival of French forces along the line dividing the country.