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Gbagbo snubs invite as African leaders start talks

Internationally recognised Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara (pictured), left his Abidjan hotel for the first time since December Wednesday to join five African leaders in discussing his country’s political crisis in the Ethiopian capital.


AFP - Ivory Coast's internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara headed Wednesday to an African summit he expects will come up with ways to force his rival Laurent Gbagbo to hand over power.

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.

"We expect the confirmation of the recognition of the election of president Ouattara and a firm engagement to force the departure of Laurent Gbagbo, who persists in defying the whole world," his spokeswoman Anne Ouloto said.

"The African Union is playing with its credibility," she said, confirming Ouattara had departed.

Gbagbo has ignored the pan-African body's demands that he leave power peacefully after being ruled by the election authority to have lost November 28 polls, a decision he and his Constitutional Council reject.

It was the first time Ouattara left the country since the elections, having been holed up for weeks at Abidjan's Golf Hotel under the protection of allied militants and UN peacekeepers, who are facing off against security forces loyal to Gbagbo.

Gbagbo has snubbed an invitation to attend the meeting with five African presidents at the AU's Peace and Security Council, sending instead the head of his political party, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, who flew out on Tuesday.

An aide to Gbagbo meanwhile said there was "nothing to negotiate" regarding the outcome of the country's presidential election.

"You cannot negotiate the results of an election. There's nothing to negotiate," Laurent Dona-Fologo, head of Ivory Coast's social and economic council, told AFP, referring to the November 28's presidential poll.

The heads of state tasked with resolving the dispute met Wednesday in Addis Ababa to thrash out proposals for a tougher stance to break the post-electoral deadlock that they will deliver to Thursday's meeting.

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.

Gbagbo will not attend because of deteriorating security at home, his party said, amid claims by his supporters that the meeting was a trap to get him out of the country.

Gbagbo's camp claimed ahead of the African Union talks that it had seven "allies" among its African partners, including major player South Africa.

Others were Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Ghana and Uganda, his government's foreign minister Alcide Djedje said in newspaper reports Wednesday.

In a related development, Gbagbo banned overflights and landings by UN and French forces in the country, his government announced on RTI state television.

"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.

"Any other exceptional overflight or landing must be previously authorised by the transport ministry," it added.

Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in Abidjan and near the western border with Liberia, where New Forces fighters allied with Ouattara wrested a town from Gbagbo's control at the weekend.

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.



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