African Union leaders met in Addis Ababa in a desperate bid to stop the country’s slide into civil war. While presidential challenger Ouattara was present, strongman Gbagbo sent a delegation, preferring to consolidate his position at home.
AFP - African leaders tried to haul Ivory Coast from the brink of civil war Thursday at a meeting overshadowed by more bloodletting in a country split since contested November polls.
Thursday's talks at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa come amid an increase in clashes linked to the leadership dispute, with scores killed, thousands made refugees and the risk of civil war and regional instability.
The west African country's internationally recognised presidential winner, Alassane Ouattara, left Ivory Coast for the first time since the elections to attend the summit in Addis Ababa.
But the country's hard-nosed incumbent Laurent Gbagbo stayed behind, sending a delegation to represent him at the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Committee meeting expected to give fresh impetus to diplomacy.
The AU's proposals were to be thrashed out by a five-member panel of heads of state who have been tasked with taking a tough stance aimed at breaking the months-old deadlock.
They are Mauritania's Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, Chad's Idriss Deby and Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore.
Ouattara, who has been holed up in Abidjan's Golf Hotel for months under the protection of allied militants and UN peacekeepers, was expected to receive further support at the AU summit.
US President Barack Obama said in a statement on Wednesday that it was "time for former President Gbagbo to heed the will of his people, and to complete a peaceful transition of power to President Ouattara."
He also condemned the escalating violence that has left around 370 people dead since the dispute broke out over the results of the November 28 elections, which had been seen as a chance to end a protracted political crisis.
Gbagbo's camp claimed ahead of the African Union talks that it had seven "allies" among its African partners, including major player South Africa.
But with Ouattara in Ethiopia, Gbagbo wasted no time in trying to gain ground at home.
His government announced that all overflights and landings by UN and French forces in the country were banned.
"Aircraft of the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast and those of the (French forces) are banned from overflights and landing throughout the territory of the Republic of Ivory Coast," a statement read on television said.
The move left a question mark hanging over Ouattara's ability to return from Addis Ababa.
The UN force has generally taken responsibility for transporting members of Ouattara's camp in and out of the Golf Hotel by helicopter.
Neither was prepared to reveal by what means Ouattara flew to Ethiopia.
In the latest incident in Abidjan, at least three men and a woman were killed in unrest that flared following an anti-Gbagbo rally on Tuesday.
Seven women were shot dead at a similar rally last week, with the killing blamed by the local United Nations' mission and witnesses on troops loyal to Gbagbo, which they deny.
Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled, with 75,000 entering Liberia and 200-300,000 leaving their homes around Abidjan, the UN refugee agency said Thursday.
Date created : 2011-03-10