10/13/08

Ivory Coast ex-rebels call for election delay



ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - Rebels in Ivory Coast are urging authorities to postpone crucial presidential elections due next month because of delays in registering voters and problems integrating former fighters into a new army.

The call, made at a weekend seminar in the rebel headquarters town of Bouake, adds to growing doubts the long-awaited Nov. 30 poll will be held on time.

President Laurent Gbagbo has already proposed delaying the vote two weeks. But many analysts, as well as some ruling party politicians and the opposition, have expressed doubt the nation will be ready to hold elections this year at all.

The landmark vote is meant to be the last step in ending a stalemated war and finally uniting the world's leading cocoa producer, which has been split between a rebel-held north and a loyalist south since fighting broke out in 2002.

In a report issued after the meeting ended Saturday, rebels called on the country's independent electoral commission ``to propose a new date for the poll.''

Gbagbo's five-year mandate officially expired in October 2005, but he has stayed in power citing a constitutional clause that allows the head of state to extend his term if required by war or crisis. The poll has been delayed repeatedly for years.

A 2007 peace deal signed in Burkina Faso made the rebels' leader prime minister and finally set the stage for elections. But much of the north remains in the hands of rebels.

The rebels say not enough has been done to register voters. The report said 20 out of 70 registration centers were not operating, including some in the main city, Abidjan.

The rebels also cited difficulties and slowness in integrating fighters into the army and civilian life. In recent weeks, former fighters have fired into the air in several towns, protesting against demobilization packages they say are too small or aren't being paid quickly enough.





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