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I.Coast president appoints PM, takes defence post

By Christophe Koffi
By Christophe Koffi

3/13/2012 8:30:00 PM -

ABIDJAN (AFP) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara took the key post of defence minister and named a one-time rival as premier Tuesday as he moved to cement his authority nearly a year after coming to power.

"Responsibility for defence will from now on be exercised by the president of the republic, the commander in chief," presidential chief of staff Amadou Gon Coulibaly told reporters.

A day after prime minister Guillaume Soro was elected the speaker of parliament, Ouattara appointed Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, a prominent member of a smaller party that had backed his 2010 election bid, as his replacement.

Ahoussou-Kouadio is a member of ex-president Henri Konan Bedie's Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), and his appointment fulfills an election promise made to Bedie for backing Ouattara's bid to oust Laurent Gbagbo.

"I appreciate the magnitude of the task, the political impact of this gesture," the new premier told journalists after his nomination.

He listed insecurity, the high price of basic foodstuffs and corruption as priorities for the new government -- highlighting challenges posed by the escape of some 14,000 prisoners during the post-election crisis of 2010-2011.

Soro and his government stepped down last week as official results were finally issued for December 2011 legislative elections, which Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR) swept.

The RDR won 138 of the parliament's 253 seats on 54.54 percent of the vote, according to results published by the Independent Electoral Commission.

Bedie's PDCI won 86 seats on 34 percent of the vote.

Ouattara had defeated Gbagbo in November 2010 presidential elections, but the incumbent's refusal to give up power triggered a conflict that left about 3,000 people dead.

Ouattara finally took power in the west African nation in April last year with the support of UN and French peacekeeping forces and Soro's former rebel fighters.

Gbagbo is now jailed at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces four counts of crimes against humanity.

The PDCI was promised the post of prime minister as part of a political deal struck with the RDR in late 2010, before the second-round run-off in the presidential election.

Ahoussou-Kouadio, a lawyer by training, is considered a party insider and thanked Bedie Tuesday for having been his "political sponsor".

Like Bedie, he is of the Baoule ethnicity also shared by the Ivory Coast's first president and father of the nation, Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

Ahoussou-Kouadio is an adviser to Bedie, and helped run his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2010.

The country's seventh prime minister, Ahoussou-Kouadio had also been minister of industry under Gbagbo. As well as serving as premier in the new government, he will take the job of justice minister.

The Ivorian Popular Front of ex-president Gbagbo has ruled out participating in a government led by Ahoussou-Kouadio, whom it accused of "human rights violations" while he was justice minister in the previous government.

It listed the arrest of Gbagbo's former prime minister Pascal Affi N'guessan and jailing of Gbagbo's son Michel, saying Ahoussou-Kouadio "will contribute nothing to the reconciliation process, but will instead divide Ivorians".

Ahouissou-Kouadio is married and has six children.