July 31, 2020 / 9:59 AM / 4 days ago

Ivory Coast defence minister Bakayoko named prime minister

Ivory Coast's Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko attends a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has appointed Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko as prime minister after his predecessor died suddenly this month, the presidency said on Thursday.

The death of former Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been handpicked by Ouattara to succeed him, left his ruling party scrambling to find a replacement three months ahead of the presidential election.

The Oct. 31 vote is seen as crucial for the stability of Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, which has spent Ouattara’s decade in office rebuilding from a brief civil war that followed his first election win in 2010.

Bakayoko, a former radio and newspaper executive and longtime ally of Ouattara, had been considered a possible replacement for Gon Coulibaly as the presidential candidate.

However, the ruling party on Wednesday formally asked Ouattara to run again. Ouattara, who had announced in March that he would step down after the election, said he would take some time before deciding whether to run - a move his opponents say would violate constitutional term limits.

Bakayoko, 55, has a reputation as a populist and showman who holds rowdy campaign rallies. He will retain his position as defence minister in his new post, the presidency said in a statement.

Bakayoko served as interim prime minister during Gon Coulibaly’s two-month absence for heart tests in France. Gon Coulibaly died days after returning to Ivory Coast earlier this month.

Party members said they asked Ouattara to run again because he was the only person who could unite the party ahead of an election that is expected to be bitterly contested.

The civil war in 2010 and 2011 killed about 3,000 people and was fought largely on the basis of ethnic and regional divides that persist despite a tenuous peace in recent years.

Reporting By Loucoumane Coulibaly, Writing by Edward McAllister and Aaron Ross; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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