Ivory Coast's Ouattara 'rejects' African Union mediator

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo rally in Abidjan, Ivory Coast - 26 March 2011
Image caption Thousands of supporters of Mr Gbagbo gathered in Abidjan to hold an overnight rally

Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara has rejected the African Union's choice of mediator in the country's crisis.

The African Union has appointed former Cape Verde Foreign Minister Jose Brito to mediate the country away from the brink of civil war.

Mr Ouattara is internationally recognised as the winner of last year's presidential election against the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo.

Supporters of Mr Gbagbo have held a large rally in the capital, Abidjan.

Mr Gbagbo is resisting calls for him to cede power to Mr Ouattara.

The UN refugee agency says as many as one million people may have fled violence in the country between supporters of the rivals.

Sanctions call

In a statement, Mr Ouattara said Mr Brito was an inappropriate choice for mediator due to his "personal ties" with Mr Gbagbo, AFP news agency reported.

Mr Ouattara said he "deeply regrets not having been consulted, nor having been approached" about Mr Brito's appointment.

He cited Mr Brito's "personal relationship and his political connection, known to everyone in Ivory Coast, with the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo."

The statement continued: "Moreover, this decision does not conform to the expressed will to appoint a former head of state in this function. Consequently, the Presidency of the Republic of Ivory Coast rejects Jose Brito as the AU high representative."

Earlier in March the African Union recognised Mr Ouattara as the legitimate winner of the November election and endorsed a plan for him to put in place an inclusive government.

Talks between the two men were to have begun on Thursday but violence between the two sides has flared, with 52 killed in Abidjan alone in the past week, according to the UN.

Pro-Gbagbo rally

On Saturday, several thousand supporters of Mr Gbagbo occupied the square in Abidjan outside the presidential palace to hold an overnight rally.

It was called by Charles Ble Goude, leader of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots movement, who showed up carrying a mattress.

The 9,000-strong UN mission in Ivory Coast has accused pro-Gbagbo forces of firing shells at pro-Ouattara areas, causing widespread civilian casualties.

Pro-Ouattara forces in Abidjan have also been accused of killing supporters of Mr Gbagbo.

France has circulated a draft resolution at the UN calling for sanctions against Mr Gbagbo and his allies.

The election was supposed to reunify the country which has been divided since a 2002 civil war.

The pro-Ouattara New Forces remain in control of northern Ivory Coast.

They have recently gained some ground in the west, but most of their forces remain to the north of the 2003 ceasefire line.

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