Africa: three leaders due in Ivory Coast for talks on the nomination of a prime minister

Three African leaders were due in Ivory Coast Sunday for talks aimed at selecting a new prime minister acceptable to President Laurent Gbagbo, rebels who control the northern half of the country and the opposition, officials said.

Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mamadou Tandja of Niger were expected in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan at around noon (1200 GMT), Presidential Spokesman Desire Tagro told The Associated Press.

"They are coming to consult the political players and make sure that everybody agrees on the name of the new prime minister," Tagro said.

Mbeki, Obasanjo and Tandja have been taking part in the 23rd Africa-France summit in neighboring Mali, which ends Sunday.

Insurgents who have held Ivory Coast's north since a 2002-2003 civil war have already rejected a shortlist of potential candidates because it didn't include their leader, Guillaume Soro, who is insisting on the premiership.

"People think it's taking a long time," Tagro said referring to the appointment of the prime minister. "But when you consider the importance of the mission, one has to take the time that is necessary," he added.

Ivory Coast has been on edge since Gbagbo canceled planned October elections, blaming the war and rebels' failure to disarm. Rebels and opposition leaders have called for Gbagbo to step down, but he has vowed to stay in office for an unprecedented extra year after being elected for a five-year term in 2000.

The United Nations and the African Union have backed the extension of Gbagbo's mandate, but also called for the selection of a new prime minister to help shepherd the country toward elections by October 2006. Rival factions have bickered over the appointment ever since, however, and no new premier has been chosen.

About 10,000 peacekeepers French and United Nations forces are deployed in Ivory Coast, AP reports. P.T.

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