Ivory Coast prime minister sets long overdue presidential election date for Oct. 31

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast will finally hold long overdue presidential elections on Oct. 31, the prime minister announced Thursday, bringing hope that an eight-year political crisis that divided the country in two may be coming to an end.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro made the announcement following a Cabinet meeting in the political capital of Yamoussoukro on the eve of the country's 50th anniversary of independence celebrations.

"We are committed to leading Ivorians to these elections, to organizing peaceful elections so that we can end this crisis which has — quite obviously — lasted too long," Soro said.

The ongoing political crisis has put a damper on celebrations slated for Saturday, and President Laurent Gbagbo said in March that they would be canceled altogether if a date hadn't been set.

Since a failed coup in 2002, the country has been divided between a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south. The ongoing civil war meant that presidential elections originally slated for 2005 were canceled and Gbagbo stayed in power. But peace accords signed in 2007 brought rebels into a power-sharing government with Gbagbo's allies and called for elections within a year.

However, disagreements over voter registration brought the peace process to a standstill and several elections dates came and went without any sign that progress toward a lasting peace was being made.

Soro acknowledged that skeptics would say that this new Oct. 31 date would simply be ignored like the previous ones, but said that he was optimistic that this time, elections would be held.

"We have all but finalized the voter list. You know that the voter list is the backbone of this election. If you don't have a good quality definitive voter list, then you cannot have good quality elections," he said.

Fears that the peace process had come unhinged erupted in February, when Gbagbo unilaterally dissolved the government and the electoral commission, amid allegations that hundreds of thousands of foreigners had been included on voter rolls. This led to three weeks of violent opposition demonstrations that left at least five people dead.

The new provisional voter list was published on July 12 and a public appeal process began on Monday.