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Africa

Mbeki mediates in Ivory Coast as tension mounts

©

Video by François PICARD , Willy BRACCIANO

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-06

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks with the two rivals claiming the presidency, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, in Ivory Coast Sunday. Mbeki’s visit comes as fears grow that the crisis could spark a civil war.

AFP - Rivals challenging Laurent Gbagbo's claim to the presidency of Ivory Coast declared they had formed a new government Sunday, as international mediators tried to settle the standoff amid fears of civil war.
              
Former South African president Mbeki stepped in to try to head off violence after both the incumbent Gbagbo and his old rival Alassane Ouattara swore themselves in as president following a disputed runoff vote on November 28 in the divided country.
              
But after Mbeki held emergency talks with the two rivals, Ouattara upped the ante, pressing the mediator to demand Gbagbo quit as his own allies declared they had formed a new government.
              
Meanwhile hundreds of people fearing violence have begun crossing west from parts of Ivory Coast controlled by Ouattara's supporters into neighbouring Liberia, an official there said.
              
Despite an order by Gbagbo for Ivory Coast's borders to be sealed, "there are more than 300 Ivorians who have already crossed the borders into Liberia," the top Liberian official for refugees, Saah Nyumah, told AFP.
              
Nyumah warned of impending food shortages if the numbers increase. "They are mostly women, children and elderly people."
              
Sent by the 53-member African Union (AU), Mbeki met with the two rivals in Abidjan, the country's main city.
              
Ouattara told reporters after talks with Mbeki: "I asked him to ask Laurent Gbagbo not to hang onto power... to quit power, as you should when you lose an election."
              
The political crisis "is obviously very serious," Mbeki told reporters.
              
"Among other things, it's important not to have violence, not to return to war and so on, to find a peaceful solution."
              
Ivory Coast was split in two between north and south by a civil war in 2002 and 2003. Last Sunday's runoff vote was supposed to stabilise the country, which was once the most prosperous in west Africa.
              

The streets of Abidjan were tense and quiet on Sunday, with locals fearful of where the standoff is leading.
              
"We're heading for an implosion, a civil war," said Raymond Kokou, a mechanic in Abidjan. "This situation is leading us to the slaughterhouse."
              
The AU warned the crisis could erupt into "a crisis of incalculable consequences".
              
Gbagbo, 65, has defied international calls to cede power after the United Nations recognised Ouattara as the winner, raising fears of fresh violence in the country where at least 17 people have been killed since last week.
              
In an emergency meeting on Saturday, the AU backed Ouattara as president.
              
As Gbagbo's allies hung the chain of office around his neck at a ceremony on Saturday, ex-prime minister Ouattara, 68, swore himself in as president in a handwritten letter to the constitutional authorities.
              
UN-certified results from last Sunday's run-off vote showed Ouattara as the winner, but Gbagbo's high court allies overturned them by annulling allegedly rigged ballots in parts of the north, his rival's stronghold.
              
The United States and European Union have also recognised Ouattara as the victor, but Gbagbo has refused to step aside and told outsiders to mind their own business.
              
"I am charged with defending our sovereignty and I will not negotiate on that," he said on Saturday after being sworn in.
              
A spokesman for former rebel leader and incumbent prime minister Guillaume Soro, who has pledged allegiance to Ouattara, on Sunday read out to reporters a list of 13 Ouattara allies named in a new government.
              
At the top of the list was Soro as prime minister and defence minister. Soro is the leader of the former rebel New Forces movement that controls the north.
              
State television on Friday meanwhile broadcast pictures of military leaders apparently pledging allegiance to Gbagbo.
              
Soldiers were deployed around Abidjan, while armoured vehicles from a UN peacekeeping force guarded the hotel housing Ouattara's campaign base.
              
Mbeki has previously helped mediate a peace deal which paved the way for Ivory Coast's first elections in a decade last month.
              
He also mediated in Zimbabwe's 2008 election crisis, helping to form a national unity government there, but was widely criticised for not publicly confronting President Robert Mugabe as he clung violently to power.

Date created : 2010-12-05

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