Wed, Jan 05, 2011 - Page 6 News List

African leaders urge Gbagbo to leave

DIGGING IN:Three leaders from West Africa were in Ivory Coast for the second time in four weeks to convince Laurent Gbagbo to step down, but he continues to resist

REUTERS, ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

African leaders met disputed Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo on Monday to try and convince him to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara in return for guarantees of “safety and security.”

Gbagbo, in power since 2000, has so far refused to concede he lost the Nov. 28 election to Ouattara despite widespread international condemnation and the threat of force to oust him after UN--certified results showed Ouattara won.

Four leaders representing West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) met Gbagbo for several hours in the afternoon before leaving to meet Ouattara in the lagoon-side hotel where he is holed up under guard of UN peacekeepers.

It was the second visit by three West African heads of state — Beninese President Yayi Boni, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verdean President Pedro Pires — who met Gbagbo last week. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga joined them on Monday on the AU’s behalf.

“We came ... in order to have dialogue with a view to resolving the crisis,” Odinga told journalists after the four leaders ended a meeting with Gbagbo in the presidential palace.

ECOWAS has said it could use “legitimate force” if Gbagbo refuses to go quietly. Ouattara’s rival government has said this is Gbagbo’s last chance to leave peacefully and with immunity.

Asked if the mission would repeat an ultimatum for Gbagbo to leave or face force, ECOWAS Ivory Coast Representative Doukoure Abram said: “No, there will be discussions going on.”

Odinga’s office said the Kenyan prime minister would “seek a peaceful settlement to the election crisis [...] and seek an assurance of safety and security for Mr Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters, if he agrees to cede power.”

More than 170 people have been killed. The crisis threatens to restart fighting in a country still divided by a 2002-2003 civil war.

Gbagbo, who has the backing of the country’s top court and the army, has shrugged off pressure to step down and said on state television over the weekend that Ouattara “should not count on foreign armies to come and make him president.”

A Gbagbo spokesman said Gbagbo would not agree to leave.

African leaders have nearly all backed Ouattara. However Angola, the only African nation to send an ambassador to Gbagbo’s swearing in, accused foreign nations of “inciting other countries in the region to start a war.”

The US and the EU have imposed a travel ban on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the regional West African central bank have frozen his finances in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.

Ivory Coast missed an almost US$30 million interest payment on its US$2.3 billion Eurobond due on Friday last week, the London Club of commercial creditors said on Monday. The country is not yet in default because of a 30-day grace period.

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