More time needed to defuse Ivory Coast crisis

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast —West African leaders will return
to Ivory Coast to resume negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo after a first visit
failed to force him to surrender the presidency and hand power to the internationally
recognized winner of last month’s election.

The
15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS had threatened military intervention if Gbagbo
did not step aside and allow Alassane Ouattara to take over the presidency.

A
delegation of presidents from Sierra Leone, Benin and Cape Verde delivered in
person what they called an ultimatum to leave.

 Gbagbo rebuffed their efforts and did not
depart the country into exile with them as had been hoped.

Nigerian
President Goodluck Jonathan, whose country is the biggest player in ECOWAS,
said the delegation would return to Abidjan next Monday.

The
United Nations declared Gbagbo the loser of the presidential runoff vote held
on 28 November.

 The U.N., which was tasked with certifying the
results of the election, the United States and other world powers have insisted
Gbagbo hand over power to Ouattara.

Gbagbo,
however, points to the Ivory Coast constitutional council that said he was the
winner. The council, which is led by a Gbagbo ally, made that announcement
after throwing out half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the
north, saying violence and intimidation directed at Gbagbo supporters meant
results from those areas should be invalidated. The top U.N. envoy in Ivory
Coast has disputed that assessment.

While
Ouattara has gained widespread international recognition and is creating a
shadow government from an Abidjan hotel, Gbagbo maintains control of Ivory
Coast’s security forces.

Gbagbo
has been in power since 2000. The election was meant to help reunify a country
that was divided by a 2002-2003 civil war into a rebel-controlled north and a
loyalist south, but Ivory Coast now stands again at the brink of war.

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