Ouattara to return to Ivory Coast on Sunday - spokesman

by Reuters
Thursday, 27 February 2014 13:00 GMT

(Adds quotes from government spokesman, Ouattara's visit to Paris embassy)

By Gérard Bon and Pauline Ades-Mevel

PARIS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - President Alassane Ouattara will return to Ivory Coast on Sunday, a government spokesman said on Thursday, seeking to end speculation about his health caused by weeks abroad for an operation.

Ouattara, 72, who came to power after a brief post-election civil war in 2011, underwent a successful operation in a French hospital to alleviate pain caused by sciatica, the government said last week. He left hospital earlier this week to recuperate at his Parisian home, Communications Minister and government spokesman Bruno Kone said.

"He's quite healthy. He confirmed that he will return to Abidjan this Sunday," Kone said by telephone from Paris after Ouattara was interviewed by Ivorian journalists at the embassy.

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

The absence from daily political life of the normally highly visible Ouattara has fuelled rumours in Ivory Coast that his health condition was more serious 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 French-speaking West Africa's largest economy, the world's top cocoa producer.

Analysts, however, warn that slow progress towards national reconciliation and a failure to reform the army and police still pose threats to Ivory Coast's political stability. (Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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