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New head seeks to reassure international community

Cote d'Ivoire's new military leader, Brigadier General Robert Guei, sought on Tuesday to reassure the international community that Friday's coup was done to save his country from chaos and called for help in restoring democracy.

"As soon as you will have helped me to establish the good rules of democracy, even if you do it within a month, I would be happy," Guei told diplomats and representatives of international organisations at a briefing in the Gallieni military barracks in Abidjan. "The sooner the better."

He said however, "I cannot set a precise timetable for the moment", intimating that the Comite national de Salut publique (CNSP), which he heads, wants to tackle issues such as the "squandering" of aid funds by its predecessor.

"Right now the money your countries gave us has been squandered," Guei told representatives of donor nations. "We're going to audit all institutions of the republic," he said, calling on governments of countries that have granted aid to Cote d'Ivoire to "give us the file ... the evidence of what you gave us".

"Elections are good, yes, but help us first to enable Ivoirians to live, to make sure that all public servants receive their salaries at the end of the month, that the debts contracted abroad are reimbursed, that we do not always have to ask our European friends to reschedule our payments," he said.

Ivoirians learnt via an announcement on radio on Friday that President Henri Konan Bedie was no longer their president. Guei said soldiers, who had mutinied on Thursday and failed to reach an agreement with Bedie over their demands had asked him to take over after rejecting Bedie's authority saying that if he did not do so, they would take over and a bloodbath was likely.

The demands related, Guei told the diplomats - as he had told interest and political groups with whom he had a series of meetings over the past two days - to the conditions in the armed forces as well as the political situation in the country, which he described as "unhealthy".

The CNSP's aim, he said, was to lay down rules so that the political battle can be waged in a healthy, transparent atmosphere in which the best candidate wins. "If there is unrest in certain African countries ... it's simply because the electoral mechanism is contested," he said.

The military intervention, which Guei said was not a coup because it was not premeditated or prepared beforehand, has been condemned by the United Nations. In a statement on 24 December, General Assembly President Theo-Ben Guirirab of Namibia described it as a "brutal act of nullification" and called for the speedy restoration of Bedie's government.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the "use of armed force to subvert the country's legal institutions" and called for an immediate return to constitutional order.

Annan also said: "The use of violence to disrupt a country's political process is unacceptable at a time when there is a universal trend towards establishing or strengthening the democratic system in all countries."

Within Cote d'Ivoire, the media have been relaying communique after communique by political parties, heads of uniformed corps and representatives of interest groups expressing support, sometimes total and unconditional, at other times more guarded, for the intervention.

The Ligue Ivoirienne des Droits de l'Homme (LIDHO) for its part, noted that the new authorities had arrested or summoned many politicians as well as former administrative, military or police authorities "officially for their security" and dissolved the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, National Assembly and government.

However, it also noted that the CNSP had pledged to respect international conventions Cote d'Ivoire has signed, create conditions for free and fair elections and form a broad-based government soon, and urged it to respect these commitments.

Guei called on political parties to propose nominees for the new
government in which the portfolios of foreign affairs, the interior, defence and security would be reserved for the military, and which would be formed by next week.

In the meantime, permanent secretaries were asked to keep government departments running and, by Monday, people had turned out to work as normal. Supermarkets have been open since Sunday.

Banks, too, were open on Tuesday. However, the CNSP ordered them on Monday to halt transfers of money abroad until further notice, Reuters quoted bankers in Abidjan as saying. The international airport, closed early on Friday, reopened on Monday.

In the meantime, Bedie has been travelling from his new base in Togo to other West African capitals to lobby support for his reinstatement, news organisations reported. He was scheduled to go to Mali after meeting with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday.

While Bedie, ex-prime minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, Bandama Ngatta (ex-defence minister) and former security minister Marcel Dibonan Kone were able to leave the country on Sunday and Monday under French escort, a number of state officials were detained. Guei told diplomats on Tuesday not to worry about those detained since he had asked the soldiers to "keep exercising non-violence".

Local radio announced on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Amara Essy and five other state officials have now been released.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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