Mbeki begins Ivory Coast mediation mission


South African former leader Thabo Mbeki
has held talks in Ivory Coast with incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, at the
start of his attempt to resolve the growing political crisis.

Both Mr Gbagbo and opposition candidate
Alassane Ouattara have declared victory in last Sunday’s presidential run-off.

Mr Ouattara was initially declared the
winner but a court overturned the result in Mr Gbagbo’s favour.

The African Union has warned the crisis
could have “incalculable consequences”.

After meeting Mr Gbagbo at the
presidential residence in Abidjan, Mr Mbeki said: “We want to hear
everybody’s point of view in this matter before making any recommendations
about what to do.”

Mr Mbeki was due to meet Mr Ouattara
later on Sunday.

A statement by the AU, which sent Mr
Mbeki, condemned “any attempt to create a fait accompli to undermine the
electoral process and the will of the people”.

It called on all parties to “show
the necessary restraint and to refrain from taking actions which will
exacerbate an already fragile situation”.

Several countries and international
organisations – including the US, the EU, France, the UN and the IMF – have
backed Mr Ouattara as the true winner of the run-off.

Mr Mbeki arrived at Abidjan airport on
Sunday morning, the first time that the country’s borders had been opened since
the crisis blew up on Thursday.

When he was president of South Africa,
Mr Mbeki helped to mediate a peace deal in Ivory Coast.

Thabo Mbeki’s arrival is the first
attempt by someone outside the current deadlock to try to find a breakthrough.

He faces a considerable challenge. Ivory
Coast now has two presidents and he is mistrusted by the opposition.

Mr Gbagbo, who achieved victory by the
exclusion of hundreds of thousands of Mr Ouattara’s votes in the north, has
control of the army and the state television station.

Mr Mbeki’s first priority is likely to
be to persuade the New Forces rebel movement, which has controlled the north
since the start of the civil war in 2002, to remain calm while he seeks a resolution.

It is feared that if he fails to find a
way out, rebel groups in the north who support Mr Ouattara will take up arms in

Mr Ouattara was declared the winner on
Thursday by Ivory Coast’s Election Commission, but on Friday its ruling was overturned
by the Constitutional Council, which is led by an ally of Mr Gbagbo.

Mr Gbagbo, who has the backing of the
head of the country’s armed forces, was sworn in for a third term in office at
the presidential palace on Friday afternoon.

He repeated the accusations of fraud
that had led the council to discount large number of ballots in the north,
where Mr Ouattara’s support is strongest.

“You think that you can cheat,
stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters and that the other side won’t see what
is going on,” Mr Gbagbo said.

He also said he had noted “serious
cases of interference” in recent days, referring to international
disapproval of his return to power.

“We didn’t ask anyone to come and
run our country. Our sovereignty is something I am going to defend,” he

He said the election had been
“historic” and that he was proud of it, but that the last few days
had been “difficult”.

“But it’s just a brief episode – I
want to tell you that Ivory Coast is now in good hands,” he said.

Mr Ouattara immediately re-appointed
Guillaume Soro as his prime minister. Mr Soro had tendered his resignation in
Mr Gbagbo’s administration just hours earlier.

Mr Soro – who is the head of the New
Forces rebels in the north – has warned that overturning the results threatens
to derail attempts to stabilise and reunify the country after the 2002 civil

The political crisis has led to protests
on the streets of the country’s main city of Abidjan, with opposition
supporters saying Mr Gbagbo’s inauguration amounts to a coup d’etat.

At least four people have been killed in
election-related clashes in Abidjan this week. An overnight curfew remains in

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