February 17, 2010 / 2:26 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 3-Ivory Coast PM says new government not ready

* Announcement of new government delayed

* More protests against President Laurent Gbagbo

* ECOWAS calls for election date to be fixed (Adds comment from United States, paragraphs 8-9)

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s prime minister delayed on Tuesday the announcement of a new government which had been expected as a step toward easing a political crisis in the West African country.

Guillaume Soro said after meetings with President Laurent Gbagbo in the capital Yamoussoukro that consultations on the government were continuing.

Gbagbo dissolved his government and the electoral commission on Friday in a row over voter registration, inducing a crisis that is certain to delay an election scheduled for March in the world’s top cocoa grower.

“I met the president in Yamoussoukro and we talked about forming a new government,” Soro told journalists upon his return to Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan.

“Very soon, that government will see the light of day. As it is, I am in consultations to determine the names of the ministers.”

The election, postponed repeatedly since 2005, is needed to heal rifts left by a 2002-2003 civil war and spur investment in one of the region’s leading economies. Half the country remains under rebel control.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc called on Ivory Coast’s political parties to find a swift resolution to the electoral register dispute and set a final date for elections.

The U.S. State Department said it was “concerned” about the move to dissolve the government and described the decision to disband the electoral commission as “particularly disappointing.”

“We encourage all parties to renounce the use of violence and call upon Ivorian leaders to fulfill their responsibility to the people of Cote d’Ivoire by allowing them the expression of their will through elections,” the department said in a statement.

PROTESTS

Gbagbo had accused the electoral commission head of illegally registering voters loyal to the opposition while opposition parties have called for massive protests at Gbagbo’s actions.

There were protests in the main city of Abidjan and central Ivory Coast and protesters told Reuters by phone that 500 people had blocked the road between the capital Yamoussoukro and Bouake, the main city of the rebel-held north.

“No cars can pass this road,” said Seraphin Kwame in the town of Tiebissou.

“We are against the dissolution of the electoral commission and government. Laurent Gbagbo must go.”

Police dispersed around 150 protesters in the Abidjan suburb of Marcory, protester Martial Assouan said.

The protests followed others on Monday in east Abengourou city, which forced the closure of several cocoa warehouses.

Rising tensions in West Africa’s former economic powerhouse threaten to disrupt a cocoa industry that accounts for about a third of global supply, and could prevent an election the World Bank this month warned is necessary for debt relief.

Cocoa exporters fear an interruption of supplies if the political unrest worsens, although cocoa has flowed to Ivory Coast’s ports during even the worst of its protracted crisis. (Additional reporting by Kwasi Kpodo in Abuja; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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