Ivorian rivals set new election date after latest postponement


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his main rivals agreed Thursday in Ouagadougou to a new date for presidential elections early next years, days after the vote was postponed for a sixth time.

Gbagbo, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and the two opposition leaders, former president Henri Konan Bedie and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, set a new date of late January, early February for the first round of voting, following talks with Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore.

Compaore has been mediating the standoff since the Ivorian electoral commission last month acknowledged that a presidential election could not be held as planned on November 29, that latest effort to hold the poll since Gbagbo’s mandate expired in 2005.

After the talks a joint statement announced the new date for the vote intended to end the crisis that erupted during a foiled coup against Gbagbo in 2002 by the New Forces (FN) rebels led by Soro, who today still hold the northern half of the country.

Some 5.3 million people have been registered to vote on a provisional electoral list, while the electoral commission has yet to verify the status of about one million others.

The electoral commission and the prime minister’s office have initially been reluctant to set a new date for the election until this issue is settled, while Gbagbo on Tuesday argued “we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of a date, but of the work that remains to be done.”

“Better to hold elections late and not have a conflict than having elections quickly and then having deaths. We are tired of crying for our dead,” Gbagbo said.

But the press close to Ouattara and Bedie accused Gbagbo of playing for more time in office and demanded a new date in editorials.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month described the provisional voters rolls as a “critical milestone” and urged Ivorians to “move forward in determining a new election date as soon as possible.”

The agenda for the Ouagadougou meeting includes providing security for the vote, which is set to be the duty of the Integrated Command Centre, a joint general staff that will deploy 4,000 regular soldiers and 4,000 FN troops.

To this end, Gbagbo in November signed decrees that gave Soro’s ex-rebels the status they wanted, notably with a measure that recognised military ranks on a par with the regular armed forces.

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