Africa

Ivory Coast: AU panel of leaders to seek way forward

Ivory Coast's internationally recognised leader Alassane Ouattara (right), shakes hands with African Union chief and Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika (left) on 25 January 2011 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Image caption The AU has called for an end to the siege of the hotel where Alassane Ouattara is living

The African Union is setting up a panel of heads of state to find a solution to the political crisis in Ivory Coast.

The panel will come up with a legally binding settlement within a month, according to the Mauritanian president.

Alassane Ouattara is internationally recognised as the winner of Ivory Coast's November presidential election.

But the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to step down after the Constitutional Council, headed by one of his allies, ruled in his favour.

The AU has previously backed Mr Ouattara, who is running a parallel government from a hotel in Abidjan which Mr Gbagbo's forces have blockaded.

But Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni suggested earlier this week that the UN should not have recognised Mr Ouattara so quickly.

The African Union's peace and security council met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Friday.

'African solution'

Announcing the panel initiative afterwards, Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters that faced with an African problem, they were trying to find an African solution.

The panel will be made up of five heads of state, one from each region of the continent, and a spokesman said its make-up would be announced within 48 hours.

A statement by the peace and security council included a demand for "the immediate removal of the siege of the Hotel du Golfe and an end to all acts of violence and abuses against the civilian population as well as calls having the effect of inciting hatred and violence".

Earlier on Friday, the AU mediator to the crisis, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, called for direct talks between the presidential rivals.

He said a summit of the 53-nation bloc starting in Addis Ababa on Sunday should "send a strong and unequivocal message that the two parties must negotiate face to face."

Image caption The Kenyan prime minister wants the AU to make the two Ivory Coast rivals hold direct talks

"Every day lost in moving forward towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis makes more imminent the spectre of further threats to peace and security in Cote d'Ivoire and the region," Mr Odinga told reporters.

Diplomatic shift

The Kenyan leader was in Ivory Coast only last week in his latest attempt to break the political deadlock. But Mr Gbagbo's camp accused him of bias.

This week's visitor to Abidjan, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, struck quite a different tone.

After talks with both leaders, Mr Mutharika, current chairman of the African Union, promised to present the "proposals" of his "brother and friend" Laurent Gbagbo to the African Union summit.

In early January, Mr Mutharika had told Mr Gbagbo to step down "to avoid a bloodbath".

But the AU appears more divided on the issue that it was even a few weeks ago.

Mr Gbagbo's call for a vote recount has been taken up by some African leaders who appear increasingly reluctant to resort to the military option suggested by the West African bloc Ecowas.

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