Ivory Coast opposition won’t join new government
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – Ivory Coast’s opposition agreed Friday to join a new government, ending a standoff sparked when the president dissolved the last one. The move suggests the crisis will likely be resolved without further street demonstrations that have already left at least five people dead.
Top opposition leader Alassane Ouattara told reporters that the various opposition groups had agreed to take the 11 seats reserved for them in the 27-member Cabinet of President Laurent Gbagbo, hours after a press conference held earlier in the day by an opposition spokesman who had said they would hold out.
The 68-year-old Gbagbo, whose term expired five years ago and who has repeatedly delayed holding presidential elections, dissolved the government Feb. 12 just weeks before the scheduled poll was due to be held. Critics say he fears he cannot win, and the move was a stall tactic to force a postponement of the election.
Street protests led by opposition supporters broke out throughout the country, as mobs set tires ablaze and police opened fire, killing at least five.
In the two weeks since then, Gbagbo announced a new government, promising 11 seats to the opposition and 16 to appointees allied with the ruling party. It was roughly the same breakdown as before – but the opposition balked when Gbagbo tried to kick out some former opposition ministers.
Ouattara, however, indicated that the standoff had been resolved, saying that the opposition “had agreed to join the government” and was “suspending all demonstrations.”
Hours earlier, Gbagbo defiantly held his first Cabinet meeting attended only by the appointees he had approved. The 16 ministers lined up on the steps of the presidency for an official government photo as is customary at the beginning of a new government session.
Missing were the 11 ministers that had been reserved for opposition parties as Bertin Kouadio Konan, an opposition youth leader held a press conference across town to say they would not play ball.
“Gbagbo has no business choosing our players,” said Konan, a member of the executive committee of the RHDP, an umbrella group representing Ivory Coast’s opposition at a news conference Friday.
“Our position is clear: Either he reconstitutes the old government with all the same players – or we don’t join the government,” said Konan, who is also the president of the youth wing of an opposition party.
Opposition leaders including Ouattara, who is a former prime minister and is considered a top challenger to Gbagbo, later met for a closed-door session. When they emerged, Ouattara indicated they had bowed in.
“We’ve lost a lot of time for nothing – and people have died for nothing,” said Francois Kouablan, a deputy in the National Assembly and secretary-general of the opposition Ivoirian Workers Party, referring to the five demonstrators who were killed.
The ruling party announced earlier in the week that they planned to hold elections in late April or early May.
As he emerged from his first Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro told reporters that “the principle task of this government is to bring the country to elections in three to four months.”
That puts the ballot in May or June – yet another delay.
Elections have been postponed at least seven times since 2005, when Gbagbo’s first term expired. He asked for a one-year extension arguing that rebels that had split the country in two following a brief 2002 civil war had not yet been disarmed. Every year since then, he has asked for a postponement, keeping the country on the brink of a political crisis which periodically spills over into violent street demonstrations.
The former French colony became the world’s No. 1 exporter of cocoa in 1979 and was once considered the economic capital of West Africa. Now more than half of its the 20.6 million people live under the poverty line, and unemployment is soaring.
Associated Press writers Marco Chown Oved and Bakary Gbon Coulibaly contributed to this report.