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Ivorian PM cuts fuel prices to quell unrest

ABIDJAN, July 21 – Ivory Coast on Sunday slashed fuel prices and halved ministers\’ salaries in response to what Prime Minister Guillaume Soro called the common man\’s "cries of distress," following widespread protests.

"Hearing the cries of distress of the people, the government has decided to fix the price of diesel at 685 CFA francs (1.6 dollars, one euro) a litre instead of 785," Soro said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

The price of petrol was now fixed at 495 CFA francs a litre against 550, he said.

"We have decided to cut the basic salaries of all members of government by half," Soro added, in a bid to trim government spending in the world\’s top cocoa grower.

This was necessary as new transport subsidies would cost the state an additional 300 million euros annually.

Soro said overseas trips by government members would also be reduced to the "bare minimum."

Last week, Ivory Coast\’s economic heart Abidjan was crippled by a transport strike over fuel price hikes.

On July 7, Ivory Coast hiked diesel prices by 44 percent and petrol prices by 29 percent.

The government attributed the increase, the first since July 2005, to rising global oil prices and the cost of state subsidies to maintain domestic oil prices at manageable levels.

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Ivory Coast, a former French colony and a west African economic powerhouse, was for years a paragon of stability in Africa.

But it was sliced in half after a September 2002 coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo.

After a peace accord agreed between the two sides in March 2007, a unity government was installed earlier this year with Gbagbo sharing power with former rebel chief Soro as his prime minister.

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