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Gbagbo hints he is ready for talks with bitter rival

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-18

Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo has for the first time hinted that he is open to talks with his internationally-backed rival for the presidency, Alassane Ouattara, as violence escalates in the bitterly divided country.

AFP - Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo hinted Friday for the first time he was open to talks with his rival as violence escalated in a deadly post-election leadership crisis.

Gbagbo has so far rejected mediation proposals by the African Union (AU) which last week endorsed the presidency of his rival Alassane Ouattara after a disputed presidential election in 2010.

In recent days violence has surged as fighters loyal to the rivals clash in the financial capital Abidjan daily, and on Thursday the UN accused Gbagbo forces of carrying out a mortar attack on a market, killing up to 30 people.

A statement read on state television by Gbagbo's spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said the outgoing president "notes the framework of discussions proposed by the African Union and is awaiting the appointment of the high representative by the institution to consider inter-Ivorian dialogue".

The AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) had decided to reconvene "in two weeks" to open negotiations between the Ivorian parties "to develop modalities for the implementation of the proposals" by a panel of five African presidents.

While the exact proposals were not made public Mello said in Addis Ababa: "What is on offer is power-sharing and the very principle of it is unacceptable."

The PSC also asked AU Commission chief Jean Ping to name a "high representative" to Ivory Coast to implement the plan to solve the crisis.

A member of the diplomatic community told AFP on Friday there had been no word on "who it will be and when he will be appointed", saying that those close to the mediation were remaining "tightlipped" on the identity of the high representative.

The statement by Gbagbo said dialogue was "the only guarantee of a peaceful outcome to the crisis, the only way to preserve the safety of citizens".

Gbagbo "calls on rebels to disarm and stop the violence", read the statement.

The Gbagbo camp refers to fighters backing Ouattara as "rebels".

As fighters took to the streets this week, in a bid to gain military ground, gunfire and heavy shelling have become a daily occurrence.

The United Nations said Friday a mortar attack on a populous stronghold of Ouattara which killed up to 30 civilians was "possibly a crime against humanity".

Gbagbo's government has denied carrying out the shelling of civilians, denouncing the accusations as a "conspiracy".

Residents on Friday reported more gunfire in Abobo, Abidjan's most populated suburb, where the massacre took place.

"Yesterday (Thursday) at around midnight we heard shooting from heavy weapons. We got under the bed, on the floor, out of fear of being killed," said one resident.

Since Monday, fighters backing Ouattara have tried to move south from Abobo, infiltrating neighbouring suburbs and drawing fierce resistance from pro-Gbagbo troops.

A West African regional court on Friday temporarily restrained the 15-nation ECOWAS from using force in Ivory Coast after a lawsuit filed on behalf of Gbagbo, a ruling said.

The Economic Community of West African States in December threatened to use force to oust Gbagbo.

Nigeria dismissed claims that President Goodluck Jonathan had provided military support to Gbagbo's rival, calling the accusation "unfounded".

"It has no basis. There is no evidence of that. Nigeria stands by the decision of the electorate at the election that brought Alassane Ouattara to victory," foreign ministry spokesman Damian Agwu told AFP.

A growing humanitarian crisis has accompanied the post-election stand-off and the UN estimates over 400,000 people are on the move -- 200,000 displaced from Abidjan alone, and 80,000 having already crossed into Liberia and Guinea.

Once seen as the economic miracle of west Africa and a beacon of stability in a troubled region, Ivory Coast was plunged into turmoil after an attempted coup in 2002 against Gbagbo.

Since then the north of the country remains controlled by pro-Ouattara former rebels, who have in recent days captured parts of the country's unstable west bordering Liberia.

On Tuesday Ouattara gave a televised address to the nation in which he urged his rival to seize a "last chance" to exit the presidency peacefully. State media have been heralding an expected address by Gbagbo to the nation, which Mello said Friday would take place soon.

Date created : 2011-03-18


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