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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 July, 2005, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Ivorian peace plan laws passed
A pair of Ivorian rebels
The New Forces rebels were refusing to disarm without the reforms
Ivory Coast's leader Laurent Gbagbo has used a presidential decree to introduce legal reforms which northern rebels were demanding as part of a peace deal.

Mr Gbagbo said the changes, including new nationality laws and the setting up of an independent electoral commission, would take immediate effect.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the peace, wrote to Mr Gbagbo asking him to enact the reforms.

The New Forces rebels had refused to disarm until the reforms were made.

Nationality issue

Ivory Coast has been in crisis since the New Forces rebels seized the north of the country in September 2002.

Mr Gbagbo's ruling FPI party is hostile to the reforms agreed to in the South Africa brokered peace deal and had been blocking the law reforms in the country's National Assembly.

Laurent Gbagbo
Mr Gbagbo's decision paves the way for elections

But the BBC's James Copnall in the Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan says Mr Gbagbo's use of exceptional constitutional powers to push them through could now lead to disarmament and pave the way for presidential elections in October.

Mr Gbagbo has used such a decree before to settle other rebel demands.

In April, he allowed opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to bid for election, which he had been prevented from doing in 2000 because his parents were not both Ivorian.

But our correspondent says nationality is a touchy subject in a country where 26% of the residents are considered foreign.

The rebels say the constitution discriminates against people from the mainly Muslim north, making it hard for people of foreign descent to get Ivorian citizenship.

Disarmament is due to start at the end of this month.

Some 10,000 French troops and UN peacekeepers currently patrol a no-weapons buffer zone which separates the rebels from the rest of the country.


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