Thabo Mbeki to mediate in Cote d’Ivoire polls row

Thabo Mbeki

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki was due to arrive in Ivory Coast on Sunday to help mediate a dispute over an election meant to resolve a decade of conflict, but which looks increasingly likely to worsen it. Skip related content

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo was sworn-in as Ivory Coast president on Saturday, despite the electoral commission declaring his rival, Alassane Ouattara, winner of a November 28 poll.

Ouattara submitted a rival oath to undertake the presidency and said he would start a parallel government.

The Constitutional Council, which has the final word on the poll and is headed by an ally of Gbagbo, cancelled hundreds of thousands of votes in Ouattara strongholds, on grounds of intimidation and fraud by rebel soldiers who run them, and declared Gbagbo the winner.

The election result had been certified by U.N. peacekeeping envoy to Ivory Coast Y.J. Choi, who received copies of the count from almost every polling station.

Choi said that even if all the allegations of fraud were true, they still could not have changed the result announced by the election commission.

The resulting dispute appears to have scuppered efforts to re-unify the country.

Small-scale protests and tyre-burning broke out on Saturday in several towns, including the largest city, Abidjan, and in Bouake in the north.

New Forces rebel commander Cherif Ousmane warned that his followers would “not rest for long without doing something” about Gbagbo if he continues to hold power. He did not specify what that would entail.

The poll was meant to unite Ivory Coast after a 2002-2003 war left it’s north in rebel hands, but that now appears unlikely.

At least 15 people have been killed in election-related violence.

“Thabo Mbeki is expected around 9:30 (a.m.),” South African ambassador to Ivory Coast Zodwa Lallie told Reuters by phone.

Lallie said the main aim of Mbeki’s visit was to seek a peaceful resolution to the row, noting similarities with Kenya’s election in 2007, in which a disputed result quickly degenerated into ethnic bloodshed that killed at least 1,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

“A situation like Rwanda or Kenya would be a nightmare, which we are working tirelessly to avoid,” she said.

South Africa has not come out as strongly against Gbagbo as many other countries. Mbeki has been involved in previous efforts to resolve the country’s conflict.

Gbagbo has controlled the world’s top cocoa grower for a decade but now faces international isolation and possibly sanctions, after his win was rejected by the United States, the United Nations, France, the European Union, the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS.

The United Nations has taken the unusually bold step of declaring Ouattara the winner and refusing to recognise Gbagbo.

The International Monetary Fund said on Friday it would not recognise his presidency unless the U.N. did — a factor that could dash hopes for relief of $3 billion in debt.

Gbagbo’s swearing-in was broadcast live on state TV and the head of the armed forces declared his continued allegiance to him the day before. Most diplomats boycotted the ceremony.

Diplomats from Angola, a longtime Gbagbo ally, and Lebanon, which has a large expatriate community in Ivory Coast, were the exceptions.

After the electoral commission announced provisional results giving Ouattara a win with 54.1 percent of the vote, several foreign broadcast media were taken off the air for their Ivory Coast audiences.

The crisis in Ivory Coast, once West Africa’s brightest economic star, pushed futures prices up 2.41 percent on Friday, and forced up the risk premium on Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond. It yielded 11.67 percent, from below 10 percent after the first election round.

Source: Reuters

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