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Ivory Coast Interim Gov’t Dissolved

May 18, 2000

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Ivory Coast’s military leader dissolved the country’s interim government Thursday, but it was not immediately clear whether Gen. Robert Guei was moving toward elections or entrenching army rule.

The move came five months after a Christmas Eve military coup and in the face of increased opposition protests in recent weeks.

One member of the dissolved Cabinet, Communications Minister Levy Niamkey said the shakeup was intended to ``usher in the new phase of the transition″ to elected civilian government.

But an official of the opposition Rally of the Republicans Party, Alain Lobognon, said the move was designed to ``force civilians out of the government and create a military environment.″

However, initial public reaction to the news was muted. The commercial capital of Abidjan was calm and there was no unusual military presence visible on the streets.

Until the coup, which ousted President Henri Konan Bedie, Ivory Coast had long been one of Africa’s most stable, prosperous countries, with only two governments _ both civilian _ in its 40-year history. December’s coup was the country’s first military takeover.

There was no immediate word on who Guei would appoint in his new Cabinet although a senior civil servant, Georges Wognin, said it would include some members of the outgoing government.

The dissolved Cabinet included members of various civilian political parties and a few key military officers.

The shakeup Thursday followed mounting calls from some opposition parties for democratic elections allowing a full range of political leaders to participate.

Guei has promised elections for Sept. 17. Although he has not said if he will run, critics say Guei wants to use the elections to legitimize his government and exclude a popular politician, RDR leader Alassane Ouattara, who could challenge him. Guei himself has suggested he may not allow Ouattara to run.

Although the army takeover was initially popular with Ivorians who had grown tired of corruption and ethnic favoritism under Bedie, that enthusiasm has since faded.

Soldiers have been accused of harassing civilians and summarily killing suspected criminals.

On Tuesday, army leaders lifted a ban on political meetings, but warned all party leaders to seek government permission before leaving the West African country.

At a rally Tuesday in Abidjan, RDR official Ali Coulibaly told several thousand party members that Ivory Coast was fast becoming a ``fascist dictatorship.″

International lenders have threatened to withdraw development assistance to Ivory Coast unless it holds elections. The country is among the world’s biggest cocoa and coffee producers but also has one of Africa’s heaviest debt loads.

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