Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

33-Year Leader of Ivory Coast Dies of Cancer Houphouet-Boigny Kept African Nation Stable

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

33-Year Leader of Ivory Coast Dies of Cancer Houphouet-Boigny Kept African Nation Stable

Article excerpt

President Felix Houphouet-Boigny's death Tuesday left his political heirs to battle for succession in the West African nation he forged into a rock of stability during 33 years in power.

Houphouet-Boigny, at least 88, was known as the Grand Old Man of Africa. He had been ill with prostate cancer for months and chose the day of his death. He had his life support system shut off after dawn on the 33rd anniversary of the nation's independence from France.

Apart from reigning monarchs, only Cuba's Fidel Castro and North Korea's Kim Il Sung had been in power longer than Houphouet-Boigny.

He left not only squabbling politicians but also a nation of 12.6 million that in his last years has edged toward economic and social crisis.

Political fighting weeks ago split the ruling Democratic Party between assembly speaker Henri Konan Bedie and Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, a former official with the World Bank.

Article 11 of the nation's constitution says the parliamentary speaker takes over at the president's death, ruling until the next elections, which are due in October 1995.

Bedie announced on state television that he was "taking over." But his right to succeed is challenged by Ouattara's supporters, who say that Article 11 is inapplicable because the Supreme Court lacks a quorum and is therefore unable to certify a power vacuum.

Bedie's backers warn that ignoring the constitution could provoke a military coup. But the opposition says ethnic conflict could erupt if Bedie, from the president's Baoule tribe, becomes the new leader, rather than someone from another of Ivory Coast's 60 ethnic groups.

France and the United States, the main foreign powers in modern Africa, are urging Ivorian politicians to accept the constitution and allow a smooth transition.

"Ivory Coast is orphaned," Ouattara said in announcing the president's death. …

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