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The BBC's Mark Doyle at Abidjan airport
"Chaotic but joyful scenes"
 real 28k

West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle
"African countries have also condemned the coup"
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Alassane Ouattara
"A revolution supported by all Ivorian people"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 23:20 GMT
Ivory Coast coup a 'popular revolution'

General Robert Guei General Robert Guei has promised a return to democracy

Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouatarra has returned home from exile, welcoming the Christmas Eve military coup as a popular revolution.

The changes that have taken place have helped to liberate the country
Alassane Ouatarra
Mr Ouatarra, leader of the Republican Rally Party, went into exile in September, shortly before party colleagues were jailed by the civilian regime which fell in Friday's coup.

Party supporters chanted his nickname, Ado, as he walked across the tarmac at Abidjan airport surrounded by soldiers.

Mr Ouattara denied having had prior knowledge of the coup, but insisted: "This is not a coup d'etat. This is a revolution supported by all the Ivorian people.

"The previous regime was a dictatorship, so the changes that have taken place have helped to liberate the country and given the prospect to build a democracy."

Mr Ouattara, a previous prime minister of Ivory Coast, said he had not been asked to join the transitional government announced by coup leader General Robert Guei.

But he said: "My wish is to help my country go through the transition and obtain the best in democracy and development."

Elections promised

Mr Ouattara had been at the centre of a long-running dispute with the former government over his right to stand as a candidate for the presidency.

Alassane Ouattara Alassane Ouattara: "Previous regime was a dictatorship"

General Guei has promised elections and a speedy return to democracy, but has denied paving the way for Mr Ouattara to take power.

However, he did say the jailing of opposition politicians was one reason for the coup d'etat.

The campaign against the opposition leader spearheaded a wider policy of ethnic and national chauvinism which was alienating Ivory Coast's large foreign migrant community.

Unity government

General Guei is continuing efforts to win support for his coup, and has warned against religion being used to divide the country.

At a meeting with religious leaders, he singled out an Islamic organisation close to the deposed leader, Henri Konan Bedie, and urged it to dissolve itself and join the mainstream Islamic movement.

A government statement also announced the appointment of new officers to the military and security forces.

They include a new chief of staff, and commander of the gendarmerie.

General Guei has also held talks with a high-level Nigerian delegation led by the National Security Adviser, Alyu Gusau. There were no immediate details of their talks.

Earlier, he called on political parties to elect candidates to join his government.

But the deposed leader, Henri Konan Bedie, has asked members of his party, the PDCI, not to take any government post.

One opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front, has responded to General Guei's call - the party's leader, Laurent Gbagbo, has said it agreed in principle to plans for a government of national unity.

Meanwhile in Mali, ministers from the West African regional group, Ecowas, are meeting to discuss the coup.

The Malian president and current Ecowas chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, has condemned the coup as a step back for democracy, and a threat to peace and stability in West Africa.

US condemnation

On Tuesday, the United States suspended aid and arms transfers to Ivory Coast.

The State Department also warned the new military rulers not to carry out reprisals against former officials, after imposing the sanctions, which are required by US law.

West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle says most Ivorians have welcomed the overthrow of what was an increasingly autocratic civilian government.

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See also:
28 Dec 99 |  Africa
Analysis: Neighbours wary over Ivory Coast coup
28 Dec 99 |  Africa
Analysis: The economics of the Ivory Coast coup
25 Dec 99 |  Africa
Ivory Coast's new 'Le Boss'
25 Dec 99 |  Africa
Ivory Coast expats warned
24 Dec 99 |  Africa
Analysis: Ivory Coast's stability shattered
26 Dec 99 |  Africa
Ivory Coast rebels tighten grip
25 Dec 99 |  UK
Britons warned to avoid coup state
24 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Coup leader pledges democracy

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