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Ivory Coast leader says to return from medical trip on Sunday

Source: Reuters - Thu, 27 Feb 2014 15:00 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ouattara, 72, in Paris for operation

* In first public appearance, says will go home Sunday

* Health concerns fuelled speculation on country's future (Recasts with Ouattara's appearance, quotes)

By Gérard Bon and Pauline Ades-Mevel

PARIS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara made his first public appearance in weeks on Thursday to say he would return home in three days, seeking to end speculation about his health after he travelled to France for an operation.

Ouattara, 72, who came to power after a brief post-election civil war in 2011, underwent a successful operation to alleviate pain caused by sciatica and is recuperating at his Parisian home, the government said last week.

"The president is well," Ouattara said in a statement at the Ivorian embassy in Paris that was broadcast on state television in Ivory Coast. "I will return on March 2."

Reuters journalists at the embassy saw the president standing and speaking with reporters and staff inside. He walked with the help of a cane and left 20 minutes later.

"I had an operation for sciatica. I am no longer in any pain," Ouattara said. "I am walking with a cane but not for much longer."

The absence from daily political life of the normally highly visible Ouattara fuelled rumours in Ivory Coast that his health problems were worse than officially stated, leading to concern over a potential succession battle.

Ivory Coast is emerging from a decade of political turmoil that saw the country divided between a rebel north and government-controlled south, fracturing society along political and ethnic lines.

Ouattara, an economist and former International Monetary Fund official, has been praised by donors for the rapid renaissance of what is French-speaking West Africa's largest economy and the world's top cocoa producer.

But the country still has potential for political instability due to slow progress towards national reconciliation and a failure to reform the army and police, analysts say. (Additional reporting by Joe Bavier and Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Writing by David Lewis and Mark John; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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