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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
Ex-president back in Ivory Coast
Henri Konan Bedie returns to the Ivory Coast
Mr Bedie will take part in reconciliation talks
The former president of Ivory Coast, Henri Konan Bedie, has returned home for the first time since he was ousted in a military coup nearly two years ago.

Mr Bedie was greeted by thousands of supporters from his Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) after he landed at Abidjan's international airport on Monday night.

After 22 months in exile, I am ready to take up new battles

Henri Konan Bedie
The former leader had been invited by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to take part in national reconciliation talks, aimed at healing the country's deep social and political divisions.

Ivory Coast was thrown into turmoil when Mr Bedie was ousted by General Robert Guei in the country's first-ever coup, December, 1999.

Mr Bedie and his family fled into self-imposed exile in France.

Scores of well-wishers lined the road as Mr Bedie was driven through the streets from the airport to his party headquarters in the wealthy suburb of Cocody.

Mr Bedie told cheering supporters that after 22 months in exile, he was "ready to take up new battles".

PDCI officials said the former president would stay in the Ivory Coast for good after the current government guaranteed his safety and promised him a car, a house and security guards.

Political turmoil

Hundreds of people were killed in violence which followed Mr Bedie's overthrow and the country has suffered from instability ever since.

General Robert Guei
General Robert Guei overthrew Mr Bedie in a military coup
General Guei was forced out of office by protests in October, 2000, after he refused to step down despite losing elections to President Gbagbo.

Mr Bedie's rivals - General Guei and main opposition leader Alassane Outtara - have also been invited to take part in the peace talks, but have so far failed to attend.

The European Union froze aid to the Ivory Coast in 1998 amid allegations of corruption by Mr Bedie's administration.

The EU and other donor countries, which also cut off funds to the West African nation after Mr Bedie was overthrown, have made political reconciliation a key demand to restoring economic aid.

See also:

24 Sep 01 | Business
Ivory Coast protects cocoa farmers
31 Aug 01 | Africa
Hate politics in Ivory Coast
16 Oct 00 | Africa
Bomb scare hits Ivory Coast
10 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ivory Coast
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