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Kenya PM on I. Coast mission to 'protect democracy'

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union's mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis, began Sunday what he called a mission to "protect democracy and the voice of the people"

AFP, Sunday 2 Jan 2011
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Before leaving the Nairobi airport, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga described his first trip to the troubled west African country since being appointed by the AU as "a peace mission to protect democracy and the voice of the people of Ivory Coast."

Odinga, who was first headed to Nigeria, is due to hold talks to find a peaceful solution to the standoff that has brought Ivory Coast back to the brink of civil war after a disputed November 28 presidential election.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo was declared winner by the Constitutional Court but the international community has recognised his rival Alassane Ouattara, who came out on top in results announced by the electoral commission.

"Mr Odinga left the country this morning for Abuja, Nigeria, where he will hold talks with... (Nigerian President) Goodluck Jonathan, who is also the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the situation in Ivory Coast," a statement from his office said.

"Tomorrow, Mr Odinga will join the presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde, who have been delegated by ECOWAS to travel to the Ivory Coast with a message from the bloc for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo," it said.

The trio of presidents have so far failed to convince Gbagbo, who let a new Year deadline set by Ouattara for him to step down pass unheeded and remained defiant in the face of international criticism.

"I am carrying a peaceful message to the people of Ivory Coast," Odinga said before boarding his plane, adding he felt it was his duty to help because Kenya had benefitted from foreign mediation in the past.

According to a Nigerian defence spokesman, West African regional military chiefs have set in motion plans to oust the strongman if negotiations by regional mediators fail. Before he was appointed as a mediator by the African Union, Odinga had organised a press conference in Nairobi to argue that Gbagbo should be forcibly removed.
"This is rape of democracy, in an electoral process there must be winners and losers," Odinga had said.

The remark was a thinly-veiled reference to his own experience in Kenya's disputed December 2007 presidential election. Odinga was the pre-poll favourite and held a clear lead in early tallying but incumbent Mwai Kibaki was eventually declared the winner, sparking deadly riots that degenerated into tribal violence across the country.

An internationally-sponsored mediation led to a power-sharing agreement that saw Kibaki keep his job and Odinga take the newly-created position of prime minister.
Odinga has repeatedly complained since that he and his party got the rough end of the stick in the agreement.

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