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Mbeki arrives in Ivory Coast

05 December 2010, 14:22

Abidjan - Ivory Coast looked for a way out of its bloody presidential standoff Sunday with former South African leader Thabo Mbeki arriving on an emergency mediation mission.

Mbeki was dispatched by the African Union (AU) to help settle the crisis after long-term incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara each claimed the presidency after a disputed election.

An airport official said Mbeki landed in Abidjan about 09:00 and was met by South African diplomats but no Ivorian officials.

There were few details available of the schedule for his visit, in which he must seek a peaceful resolution to the deadlock between the two rivals which risks erupting into large-scale violence.

Gbagbo has defied international calls for him to cede power after the United Nations recognised Ouattara as the winner, raising fears of further violence in the country where at least 17 people have been killed since last week.

The AU entrusted Mbeki "with an emergency mission to Cote d'Ivoire in order to find a legitimate and peaceful solution to the crisis," it said after a meeting Saturday, referring to the country by its French name.

As Gbagbo's allies hung the chain of office around his neck at a ceremony Saturday, ex-prime minister Alassane Ouattara swore himself in as president in a handwritten letter.

The bizarre standoff unfolded amid reports of more deadly violence and urgent calls from world powers for a peaceful resolution to the disputed election, meant to end a decade of conflict in the west African country.

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, European Union and others have recognised Ouattara as Ivory Coast's new president.

The African Union also recognised the Independent Electoral Commission's result that gave him victory, condemning any attempt to seize power by a "fait accompli".

Such a move would further complicate "an already serious situation" and plunge the country into "a crisis of incalculable consequences," it warned.

But Gbagbo refused to step aside and told outsiders to mind their own business.

"In recent days I have noted serious cases of interference," he said at the presidential headquarters after being sworn in before a roomful of whooping, clapping supporters.

"I am charged with defending our sovereignty and I will not negotiate on that," he said. "I wish various people would pull themselves together."

Ouattara countered by signing a handwritten oath of office and sending it in his "capacity as president" to the Constitutional Council, the court authorised to certify election results and declare the new president.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, leader of the New Forces movement that controls the north, offered his resignation to Ouattara who immediately re-appointed him to the post, in front of reporters.

The New Forces fought a brief civil war against forces loyal to Gbagbo in 2002 and 2003 that left the country split in two between north and south. Last Sunday's run-off vote was meant to unify and stabilise the country.

State television on Friday broadcast pictures of military leaders apparently pledging allegiance to Gbagbo.

Soldiers were deployed in Abidjan, while armoured vehicles from a UN peacekeeping force guarded the hotel housing Ouattara's campaign base.

The military has sealed the country's borders and jammed foreign news broadcasts, but a curfew in Abidjan failed to prevent deadly overnight shooting early Saturday that killed two people, residents told AFP.

In a fresh statement Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his "deep concern" at the "continuing stand off".



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