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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 11:47 GMT
Q & A: Troubles in Ivory Coast
BBC News Online outlines what lies behind the continuing unrest in the Ivory Coast and its implications.

What started the crisis?


The country's reputation for stability was shattered when General Robert Guei took power in a coup in December 1999.

It was followed by two major military rebellions, disputed elections and violence.

Presidential elections to restore democracy in October led to yet more violence and a popular uprising that brought Laurent Gbagbo to power.

But the new president's triumph has been soured by political and ethnic fighting between his supporters and those of rival opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim.

Is the army loyal?

The head of the armed forces, who was previously loyal to military ruler General Guei, declared his allegiance to the new civilian president after the October uprising.

Most of his troops appear to have followed him, but Ivory Coast's army has a history of factional divisions, and there may well be elements within it who would be prepared to take up arms against President Gbagbo.

Soldiers have warned of sharp divisions within the military and there have been rumours of an attempted comeback by General Guei, who is still in the Ivory Coast.

Others from the north are thought to be sympathetic to Mr Ouattara.

Is there a history of unrest?

For decades, the Ivory Coast was an oasis of calm in West Africa, with a buoyant economy.

But then General Guei overthrew the unpopular President Henri Konan Bédié in a near bloodless coup.

It was the first coup in the Ivory Coast in 40 years of independence, but many initially welcomed the change.

The military promised democratic elections, and an end to the corrupt practices of President Bédié - in particular the discriminatory polices he initiated against the country's many immigrants.

However, it soon became clear that the promises meant little.

What are the religious and ethnic fault lines?

In the early years of independence, millions of immigrants from neighbouring countries were encouraged to come to work on the Ivory Coast's extensive cocoa and coffee plantations, to which the country owed its early economic success.

But in a bid to stop his political opponents, former President Bédié began a policy of marginalisation and discrimination against immigrants and their descendants.

In particular, it was directed against the large number of Muslims in the North from Burkina Faso.

General Guei ostensibly grabbed power in an effort to end the xenophobia, but he soon embraced the same anti-foreigner polices as those pursued by Mr Bédié.

His main opponent, Mr Ouattara, was disqualified by the Supreme Court from contesting the election on the grounds that his parents were from Burkina Faso.

After President Gbagbo, a southerner, took over, Mr Ouattarra was barred from contesting parliamentary elections in December.

Many people from the North boycotted both sets of elections in protest.

Why does the West care?

The US, the European Union and France have all viewed the conduct of elections with dismay.

There is pressure for a new election which would include Mr Ouattara and other opposition leaders but little immediate prospect of a climbdown from President Gbagbo.

The former French colony was seen as a pillar of political stability and economic progress in West Africa for 40 years.

There are now fears that the country could disintegrate, which would be a step back for economic development in the whole region.

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See also:

12 Jan 00 | Africa
Ivorian reggae star supports coup
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