Former president calls for Gbagbo to hand over to a transitional government

Opposition leader and former president Henri Konan Bedie, fresh back in wartorn Cote d'Ivoire after a year in self-imposed exile in Paris, has called on President Laurent Gbagbo to hand over power to a transitional government if, as expected, planned elections do not take place on 30 October.

Speaking on Sunday night, and flanked by bodyguards as well as UN peacekeeping troops, the 71-year old presidential candidate for the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), one of the country's two main opposition parties, told reporters that Gbagbo should not remain in power after his mandate expires at the end of October.

"When one has spent five years governing and when one has not been able to organise democratic elections, how can one demand [the mandate] to be prolonged?" Bedie said.

Gbagbo has said since April that should elections not take place for any reason, he will remain in his post.

Under peace deals signed since January 2003, presidential elections were to have been held on 30 October - the end of the incumbent's five-year term. But foot-dragging in preparation for the polls from all sides in Cote d'Ivoire's three-year civil conflict, means the ballot cannot take place as planned according to UN chief Kofi Annan.

In interviews to French media organisations over the weekend, Annan blamed political leaders from both sides of the divide for the delays and accused them of "destroying" Cote d'Ivoire where 10,000 French and UN troops have been keeping a sometimes shaky peace.

"I do not understand these Ivorian leaders, these men who believe they are capable of leading a country, who are seeking to become president of a country they are in the process of destroying," said Annan in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

Services and infrastructure are visibly crumbling in northern Cote d'Ivoire, which has been controlled by rebel forces and cut off from government funds, for a full three years.

The UN Security Council will review possible sanctions on Ivorian political leaders, Annan said.

"The matter [of sanctions] has been referred to the Security Council. The issue of sanctions has not been ruled out.... I think that sooner or later the Council will have to act in this direction," he said.

Bedie, who was met at the airport by Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and a jubilant crowd of PDCI supporters on Sunday, said he would back UN sanctions.

"We have always wanted sanctions after what has happened in Cote d'Ivoire," he said, listing a number of charges against Gbagbo, including the killing of at least 120 civilians in March last year by security forces attempting to quash an opposition demonstration.

"First, there were very serious human rights violations, with deaths, exactions, kidnappings and the events of 26 March 2004," Bedie said. "The UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire has investigated all this. All that is left is to impose sanctions."

Bedie ruled Cote d'Ivoire from 1993, until he was deposed in the country's first and only successful coup d'etat in 1999 destroying the country's image as a bastion of stability in a troubled region.