Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo Agrees to Talks in Fight for Presidency

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo agrees to talks in fight for presidency

Tuesday, 18 January 2011 19:52
International News .

EU-registered ships have been barred from dealing with Ivory Coast's main cocoa ports in line with sanctions over the nation's controversial November presidential poll, an EU diplomat said today

ABIDJAN - Laurent Gbagbo gave new assurances Tuesday that he is open to talks with his rival for the Ivory Coast presidency, while regional leaders mulled military intervention to break the deadlock.

The proposal for talks was delivered Monday by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga on a fresh round of mediation to persuade Gbagbo to step down and end a seven-week standoff that has left scores dead and raised fears of civil war.

There was "an offer of dialogue between the two camps. It was accepted... a meeting depends on the response of the (Alassane) Ouattara camp," Gbagbo government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said.

Ouattara, recognised as winner of a November 28 election by the Ivory Coast's voting authority and the international community, did not immediately comment.

Gbagbo has said before that he is willing to talk with his rival but he has refused all offers to give up the presidency, including exile and immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity.

The leader of the world's top cocoa-producing nation for 10 years, Gbagbo was declared the election victor by the Constitutional Council. He retains control of the presidential palace and the army.

Odinga, mediator for the African Union which has said that Gbagbo must go, was optimistic about his latest round of negotiations and awaiting replies to proposals made Monday, his spokesman Salim Lone said.

"I don't want to create the impression that a big breakthrough is about to happen but he feels more optimistic than the last time," Lone said, adding, however, that no offer had been made on "sharing power." The Kenyan's first trip ended on January 5 with little tangible progress.

If there was no "significant" development later Tuesday Odinga would leave on Wednesday morning, Lone said.

"We are waiting to see if there are any developments in terms of the proposals made.

"If there is some clear response to the proposals Odinga made, that would make us reassess our plan.... Actually on both sides, but one side is more important," he added referring to Gbagbo.

Pro-Ouattara suburbs of Abidjan were shut down by a general strike against the Gbagbo Tuesday but elsewhere in the city it was business as usual, AFP reporters said.

"We are tired of these disruptions... We want to go about our business," complained a woman in the Abobo suburb where public transport was disrupted, and shops and schools shut.

Regional military chiefs opened two days of talks in Mali that will finalise a last-ditch plan to use force to remove Gbagbo if necessary.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) officers would work off a report drawn up in December that envisages Nigeria at the head of a possible regional intervention force, a participant told AFP.

"Our preparations are very advanced and we are ready to move into action if necessary and that must be clear," senior Nigerian officer Olusegun Petinrin said.

ECOWAS chairman, the Nigerian resident Goodluck Jonathan, said in a statement that the group wanted a peaceful resolution to the impasse but "we have not changed the position we took during our last summit," when the threat to use force was made.

Jonathan said "the votes of citizens must count after they are cast, or democracy will not take hold in the continent," the statement said.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie meanwhile warned: "The use of force should only be considered as a very last resort because given the balance of the armed forces there would be the risk of a high number of casualties."

More than 200 people have been killed in clashes since the contested election.

The United Nations Security Council delayed a vote due Tuesday to send 2,000 extra troops into Ivory Coast, diplomats said. It was not immediately known how long the delay would last.

The number is the maximum requested by UN commanders fearing a growing showdown with Gbagbo, who has demanded several times that UN forces leave. The new deployment would take the UN force up to about 11,500 troops.

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