Africa's mediator due in Ivory Coast

AFP, Monday 17 Jan 2011

African Union mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis is to arrive in the country Monday

Ivory Coast
Supporters of Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo attend a rally at the Culture Palace in Abidjan 15 January 2011. (Reuters)

Africa's mediator in Ivory Coast's leadership crisis is due in Abidjan Monday, with the country's internationally recognised president calling for another general strike to get his rival to stand down.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union's mediator in the deadly stand-off between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and the man the world says beat him in a November vote, arrives with the rivals more entrenched than ever.

Both Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara have been sworn in as president, while Gbagbo's army besieges Ouattara's camp at an Abidjan hotel. In response, Ouattara's followers have called for a new general strike from Tuesday.

The RHDP, a coalition of pro-Ouattara parties, called in a statement for all citizens in the crisis-stricken west African nation to stop work from Tuesday and until embattled strongman Gbagbo moves out.

It called on "public and private sector workers, transport workers, shopkeepers, artisans, workers, farmers" to observe the strike, amid floundering international efforts to mediate an end to the crisis.

"Despite multiple mediations... Gbagbo is holding on to power and taking our country Ivory Coast inexorably towards uncertain tomorrows," the RHDP said in a statement.

A previous general strike called by Ouattara's camp on December 27 failed to build momentum, with much of the population unable to sacrifice a day's earnings.

An appeal in December by Ouattara's prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, to civil disobedience also had little effect.

Odinga's first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator ended on January 5 with little tangible progress after Gbagbo failed to make good on promises that mediators said he made.

The African Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have struggled to mediate the crisis that followed a November 28 presidential runoff, despite brandishing the threat of military action as a "last resort."

More than 200 people have died since the vote. Most of the world, the United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission say that Quattara is the winner. The constitutional council has declared Gbagbo the winner.

Ouattara has for weeks been holed up in an Abidjan hotel resort, with United Nations peacekeepers and northern ex-rebels protecting his camp from the army which remains loyal to the incumbent.

A cascade of African leaders have shuttled between the two men in recent weeks, with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasango the latest mediator to leave Abidjan empty handed.

Odinga's spokesman, Dennis Onyango, said that the Kenyan leader would return to current ECOWAS head Nigeria after Abidjan.

"His return to Nigeria after the Abidjan mission will depend on what he meets on the ground over there," Onyango said. "So, it can be today, it can be another time."

Odinga met Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan late Sunday ahead of the mission, though details of their talks were not immediately clear.

The United Nations mission in the country says that Gbagbo's supporters have stepped up their attacks on peacekeepers there, with several UN vehicles torched last week, although Gbagbo's camp has denied involvement.

The UN wants to send up to 2,000 extra peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, but a Security Council vote on the extra troops has been delayed until Tuesday.

ECOWAS defence chiefs are to meet in the Malian capital Bamako from Wednesday for talks focused on how to deal with Ivory Coast's crisis.


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