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Africa Update

Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny's Democratic Party of Ivory Coast was coasting to victory in early returns from the West African country's first multiparty parliamentary elections, but voter turnout was lower than expected.

``I never saw an election with so many abstentions,'' said one Interior Ministry source, who predicted the final figure would show about 35 percent to 40 percent of the electorate voted, compared to 60 percent in last month's presidential contest.

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Ivory Coast, along with several other West African countries, reluctantly authorized the formation of opposition parties this year following violent demonstrations demanding reforms.

None of the 214 opposition candidates for the National Assembly was elected in early returns. Opposition candidates blamed voter frustration arising from alleged fraud in last month's presidential vote, but diplomats and political analysts said the opposition, with more than two dozen parties, was disorganized.

The Ivorian Popular Front, the main opposition party, claimed the ruling Democratic Party used as many as 750 people to break up opposition meetings and rallies nationwide.


Hit for the second successive year by drought, Ethiopia's government said Wednesday that 4.3 million people might face famine next year and appealed for 830,000 tons of food aid.

The government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) said the worst-hit areas were again the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigr'e.

``Not only are we again to be confronted with a big task of trying to save the lives of over 4 million Ethiopians, but ... most of them are to face such a problem for the second successive year and in a very difficult environment,'' RRC director Yilma Kassaye told donor representatives and aid organizations in Addis Ababa.

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Satellite images of Sudan show the vegetation belt has been pushed hundreds of miles south of the Sahara desert frontier since 1988. Relief agencies predict up to 6 million people in Sudan could face serious food shortages in the coming months, and aid workers say the government is doing nothing to help.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food stocks are nearly exhausted. Nevertheless, an estimated 330,000 tons of food were exported from Sudan between January 1989 and May this year. Many officials say the money was used to fund government forces fighting a civil war against rebels in the south.

Relief agencies are in a near-stalemate with Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir's military government which denies a threat of famine and refers to food shortages as a ``food gap that can be bridged.'' General Bashir's government says it can meet the food deficit. But aid officials say the government refuses to declare famine and call for international relief because this would undermine its stated policy of ``we eat what we grow.''

``We are working on figures of between 500,000 tons and a million tons food deficit in the Sudan,'' says a relief official.

Sudan's self-sufficiency drive has drawn skepticism from relief officials who warn of a disaster potentially greater than the 1984-85 drought in which an estimated 200,000 people died.


Refugees are fleeing in greater numbers to Liberia's neighboring countries to escape hunger and renewed fighting, a United Nations report said last week.

``The flow of refugees and returnees to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast has dramatically increased,'' the report said. The total number of refugees in the three countries jumped to 763,000 by the end of October, an increase of 130,000 in three weeks.

Nearly one-third of Liberia's population, estimated at 2.4 million when the civil war began last December, are now refugees.

The new exodus follows a surge in fighting between rebel Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia and a Nigerian-led West African intervention force. With all sides bombing or shelling enemy ports, relief supplies are now at a trickle, aid officials in Abidjan said.

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