Ivory Coast president accepts plan to end civil war

Gbagbo names Diarra interim prime minister


PARIS - President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast formally accepted a peace plan here yesterday to end his country's 4-month-old civil war, and he appointed a new prime minister to lead a reconciliation government.

Speaking at a news conference after the first day of a weekend meeting of West African leaders who hope to help put the peace plan into effect, Gbagbo said he had accepted Seydou Diarra, a former prime minister, as leader of the government until new elections could be held.

He said other members of the new coalition government would be appointed in the coming days. The peace plan also offers amnesty for rebel fighters and promises that a new army will be formed that will include supporters of both the present government loyalists and rebel forces.

Gbagbo said the new government had "two essential objectives: to lift the Ivory Coast out of war and to bring back prosperity."

If the plan works, it will be a major victory for President Jacques Chirac of France, who sent 2,500 troops into Ivory Coast after a failed coup to oust Gbagbo in September set off a civil war. By sending the troops, Chirac risked France's prestige in Africa and support among a skeptical French public.

This month, France helped negotiate a cease-fire to make peace talks possible and sponsored the nine days of talks involving all of Ivory Coast's political parties, including the three rebel groups that control most of the country.

Those groups agreed on a draft peace plan early Friday, in time for the French-sponsored West African summit meeting, which the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, is also attending and is intended to lend the peace accord international legitimacy.

Leaders from 11 West African nations spent most of yesterday behind closed doors, working to create an international surveillance committee to ensure that the accord is respected.

Chirac is pushing for wider international involvement, including support from the United Nations, to ensure that the peace holds and to allow France to withdraw most of its forces.

But new tensions are threatening the fragile peace. Reuters reported that thousands of people rallied yesterday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's economic hub, to protest the agreement, which they claimed capitulated to rebel demands.

The Ivory Coast has accused neighboring Liberia of supporting rebel operations in the western part of the country.

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