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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 22:43 GMT
Ivorian leader defends peace deal
Ivorians watch the president's speech
The speech had been postponed for nearly two weeks
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has asked the nation to back the accord signed in Paris to end the civil war.

He went on national television to say that the agreement was a "basis to work on" in a speech which had been postponed for nearly two weeks amid anti-rebel protests in the main city Abidjan.

Laurent Gbagbo
Let's try this medicine

President Gbagbo
Confirming that Seydou Diarra, a Muslim, would head the new unity government, he also assured loyalists that the rebels would not be given the key defence and interior ministries.

The rebels issued an ultimatum hours before the speech, calling for President Gbagbo to accept the Paris peace accord or face a "march on Abidjan".

"I invite you to accept the spirit of the Marcoussis [Paris] agreements, and therefore the text of the Marcoussis agreement, as a basis to work on," Mr Gbagbo said on TV.

"Let's try this medicine. If we get better, then we keep it. If not, we try something else."

Ivory Coast's civil war has left hundreds of people dead and about one million homeless since erupting on 19 September.

Ultimatum

The accord signed in Paris by leaders of Ivory Coast political parties and rebel groups stipulates that the rebels will take part in a new government of national reconciliation ahead of new presidential elections.

President Gbagbo chose as his prime minister Mr Diarra, who is seen as a veteran technocrat but who, by religion, is also expected to appeal to Ivory Coast's mainly Muslim, and rebel-held, north.

Guillaume Soro
We're going to give the international community a week

Guillaume Soro
rebel leader
Guillaume Soro, leader of the biggest of the three rebel groups, warned on Friday that if the president did not publicly back the accord the rebels would march on Abidjan.

"We're going to give the international community a week to make Gbagbo respect the deal," he said, speaking in the western town of Danane.

He warned that chiefs of staff had been given free rein to put troops on maximum alert.

The Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) leader, whose group controls the north of Ivory Coast, was flanked by leaders of the two western rebel groups, the Movement for Peace and Justice and the Popular Movement for the Far West.

Peacekeepers

In President Gbagbo's powerbase of Abidjan protests against the peace deal have focused on the ex-colonial power France, prompting Paris to encourage its 16,000 citizens to leave.

French troops arrive in Abidjan on Friday
France has soldiers and gendarmes in Ivory Coast
French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Friday that no evacuation was planned but arrangements were in place.

More than 300 French troops arrived in Abidjan on Friday as part of France's plan to have more than 3,000 soldiers there to protect Western citizens and monitor the truce.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council authorised France and the west African grouping, Ecowas, to use force in their peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast.

In a separate development, the staff of more than 30 international bodies were preparing to pull out of Ivory Coast on Friday following a UN warning.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kesha West
"The Ivorian leader remains adamant he will give peace a chance"

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05 Feb 03 | Africa
04 Feb 03 | Africa
03 Feb 03 | Africa
02 Feb 03 | Africa
02 Feb 03 | Africa
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