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African leaders in Ivory Coast
Abidjan, Dec 28 (Agencies):
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Published on 28 Dec. 2010 11:25 PM IST
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Three West African heads of state are expected in Ivory Coast for talks on the crisis following the disputed presidential election.
Leaders from Sierra Leone, Benin and Cape Verde are to give the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, a final chance to step down peacefully. Mr Gbagbo insists he is the winner of the election.
He is refusing to make way for Alassane Ouattara, who has been internationally recognised as the president-elect.
Mr Ouattara’s victory in November 28 polls was overturned by the Constitutional Council, a body headed by a Gbagbo ally, citing claims that results were rigged in the north. A Sierra Leone government spokesman told the BBC that the leaders from the Ecowas regional grouping would be offering Mr Gbagbo a way of leaving without being humiliated.
Ecowas has deliberately chosen to send three heads of state who have not yet spoken strongly on the election dispute, says the BBC’s John James in Abidjan.
But after the failure of mediation efforts by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki and the head of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, this visit has a single agenda - to persuade Mr Gbagbo to step down and avoid Ecowas military intervention, our correspondent adds.
Mr Gbagbo’s supporters say the presidents will be received respectfully, but Mr Gbagbo continues to insist that he won last month’s election.
On Monday, the African Union (AU) appointed Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga as its special envoy to Ivory Coast to push for a peaceful outcome to the crisis. The AU said Mr Odinga had been asked to “follow through the crisis”, a month after the country’s disputed polls. Armed and ready for Ivorian intervention? Correspondents say the AU’s appointment is another setback for Mr Gbagbo, as Mr Odinga has been hawkish on the crisis, and was the first African leader to call for military action.
Mr Odinga has said he planned to talk to Mr Gbagbo, but would wait for the outcome of the Ecowas talks before deciding his next move. “[Mr Gbagbo] has of course portrayed himself as a democrat all his life, that’s why he lived very many years in France in exile,” Mr Odinga told the BBC.
“So I think I’m going to try to impress upon him that the time has come for him to lead by example.
“This, I think, is something that needs to be said and to tell him also that he risks becoming an international pariah if he tries to continue to cling to power. Going by the current trends he will have no friends left any more anyway.”
Mr Odinga was named Kenya’s prime minister in 2008 in a coalition government after weeks of political unrest. However, he dismissed the possibility of power-sharing between Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ouattara, saying the election commission, not the constitutional court, was the only legitimate authority to determine the winner.
Buses have now stopped working in Abidjan after Mr Ouattara called for a general strike on Monday as part of his protest, our correspondent says. The atmosphere in Abidjan is tense, he adds; while less violent than a few days ago, everyone fears a military intervention in the coming weeks.
Ivorians had hoped these elections would close the chapter on the country’s most difficult 10 years, but instead they have opened up a new period of instability, he adds. On Monday, supporters of Mr Ouattara briefly took over the Ivory Coast embassy in Paris.
Some 20 protesters spent six hours in the building calling for Mr Gbagbo to step aside, before leaving peacefully, reports said.
The move came after France, the former colonial power, recognised Mr Ouattara’s proposed envoy as the country’s ambassador.
Mr Ouattara and his shadow government are currently in an Abidjan resort, protected by about 800 UN peacekeepers.
The UN has said at least 173 people have died in violence, and scores of others have been tortured.

 
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