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Former South African President Mbeki To Mediate In Ivory Coast Crisis


Opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara
Former South African leader Thabo Mbeki has arrived in Ivory Coast to help to settle a political crisis in the country.

Mbeki was dispatched by the African Union (AU) on a mediation mission after Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara each claimed victory in the disputed presidential runoff.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara took oaths of presidency in separate ceremonies on December 4.

The AU has warned that the crisis could result in "incalculable consequences" for Ivory Coast. The AU called on all parties to show restraint and to "refrain from taking actions which will exacerbate an already fragile situation."

At least four people have been killed in election-related violence in the main city, Abidjan, during the past week. Opposition supporters took to the streets in Abidjan saying Gbadgo's decision to remain in power amounts to a coup d'état.

Ivory Coast's Electoral Commission initially declared Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 runoff election.

Fraud And Intimidation

However, the country's Constitutional Court overturned the results in favor of the incumbent Gbagbo. The Constitutional Court is the highest legal body in Ivory Coast and has final say on elections.

The court canceled hundreds of thousands of votes cast in northern areas, where support for Ouattara is strongest. It cited fraud and intimidation by rebel forces backing Ouattara.

However, the initial election result has been certified by the UN peacekeeping mission to Ivory Coast. The mission said even if the fraud allegations were true, they still could not change the outcome of the election.

Several foreign countries and international organizations, including the United States, the European Union, and the African Union have accepted Ouattara as the winner of the runoff.

Gbadgo, however, told outsiders to mind their own business and not to interfere in his country's affairs.

"In recent days, I noted serious cases of interference," Gbadgo said after being sworn in for a third term in office. He has led the country for a decade.

"I wish that some of these parties would hold themselves back. Here in our country we don't ask anyone to come manage our country," he said during the ceremony at the presidential headquarters before his supporters, including many military figures.

Ouattara, who comes from the predominantly Muslim north of the country, was sworn in at a hotel guarded by UN peacekeepers.

Ouattara said he would start a parallel government. He immediately reappointed Guillaume Soro as the new prime minister of Ivory Coast. Soro, who also comes from the north, had earlier resigned from the post.

"I would like to tell the nation that I relieve you of your prime ministerial functions and I ask you to immediately take charge of current affairs and to propose me a new government as soon as possible," Ouattara said.

Once A Model Of Stability

Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer, once was hailed as a model of stability. The country has slipped into internal conflicts after the death of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, in 1993.

An armed rebellion against Gbadgo's government in 2002-03 left the country split between rival north and south. In 2007, a power-sharing government took over with the ex-rebel leader Soro as prime minister.

November's runoff was meant to unify and stabilize the country, but the situation there remain tense.

The country's borders and its air space were closed and a curfew was imposed in Abidjan. Two people were reported killed during an overnight shooting in the city.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his "deep" concern at the "continuing standoff" in the West African country.

Many fear that if Mbeki fails to find a solution to the crisis, Ouattara supporters in the north will resort to armed protests.

compiled from agency reports