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Ivory Coast President Says Country’s Economy on ‘Rebound’

The economy of the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, has “improved substantially” and is projected to grow by at least 8 percent next year, President Alassane Ouattara said today.

Ouattara, who took office in May, said the West African nation’s gross domestic product had been projected to decline by 10 percent this year. It is now projected to decline 5 percent, and then grow 8 percent to 9 percent in 2012, he said.

“That’s really a rebound,” he told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Ouattara, seeking international aid to rebuild the country after months of violence, said his government is working on a plan to restructure the cocoa industry.

“We will have to liberalize the whole sector,” he said. “We’ll have to give more to the farmers.”

He declined to discuss details, saying the plan will be completed next month so that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank can consider his country’s request for credit in November.

Ouattara, an economist, won the presidency in a November election that was followed by four months of violence between his supporters and those loyal to his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, who ruled the Ivory Coast for a decade and who refused to cede power.

3,000 Killed

Gbagbo was finally captured by the Ivorian Republican Forces militia in Abidjan, the commercial capital, on April 11 following a 10-day siege on the city. As many as 3,000 people may have died in the conflict, according to the International Criminal Court.

Ouattara was greeted with a standing ovation today as he entered the conference room of the Washington think tank. He last spoke to the group in January by telephone from the Ivory Coast, where he was holed up in a hotel in Abidjan as the violence flared.

“It was a very tense moment,” Ouattara recalled. “We were at the Golf Hotel. We did not have food the previous day. Cote D’Ivoire has gone through very difficult times.”

Introducing Ouattara, John Hamre, the center’s president, said, “This has been a historic and monumental trajectory for Cote D’Ivoire.”

Aid Request

The International Monetary Fund is considering a $614 million loan for Ivory Coast under the lender’s extended-credit facility program, it said on Sept. 15.

While the U.S. has been supportive diplomatically, Ouattara said, “We’re hoping the U.S. will have an important contribution financially. We thank the U.S. for what is being done, but of course we’d like them to do more.”

Any request for U.S. aid is almost sure to face resistance from a cash-strapped Congress. The House and Senate have been stymied this week over plans to approve a $3.65 billion package for victims of Hurricane Irene and other domestic natural disasters.

Ouattara said security has been restored to most of his country and work on political reconciliation between the once-warring factions will begin formally next week.

There was only one hold-up in the city of Abidjan last night, he told the group. “For a city of 6 million people, that’s not too bad,” he said. “Now, Abidjan is peaceful, the country is peaceful.”

A commission on reconciliation has been appointed and will begin work on Sept. 28, he said. And the two opposing forces that fought each other for months are being integrated into a single national army.

“They’re working together,” Ouattara said. “It’s difficult. A few months ago, they were fighting each other.”

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