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Rival Presidents Paralyze Post-Election Ivory Coast

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Rival Presidents Paralyze Post-Election Ivory Coast

Africa

Rival Presidents Paralyze Post-Election Ivory Coast

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

There's a tense political stand-off in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. Two political rivals are both claiming to be president after a runoff election last week that was supposed to decide between the two of them. So far, mediation attempts have failed. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the country's largest city, Abidjan.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Here's a short history of the past week or so in Ivory Coast. Incumbent president for the last decade, Laurent Gbagbo, faces off in a presidential run-off against challenger, Alassane Ouattara on November 28th. Ouattara is declared the winner by the Independent Electoral Commission. The White House and others endorse and congratulate Ouattara. But on Friday, the Constitutional Council, which is meant to sign off on the results, reverses Ouattara's victory and proclaims Gbagbo president.

(Soundbite of drums)

Gbagbo's camp defies international calls for him to concede defeat, and he's sworn in at the presidential palace Saturday, warning against any outside interference in Ivory Coast affairs. The same day, Ouattara signs a rival presidential oath of office - from the safety of a hotel, bristling with U.N. peacekeepers and tanks.

The outcome is a presidential tug of war that sparked some violence in once stable and prosperous Ivory Coast. Enter the African Union's mediator, former South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. THABO MBEKI (Mediator, African Union): The view of the African Union is that the matter is very serious, and that, among other things, it is important not to have violence, not to return to war and to find a peaceful solution to all these problems. It is serious.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa exporter, with deposits of oil and gas. It was the economic Eldorado of West Africa until the civil war eight years ago. The country was divided into two - the mainly Christian south, controlled by Gbagbo, and the predominantly Muslim rebel-held north, which is Ouattara's stronghold.

And there's saber-rattling from the rebels, who have long claimed their part of the country is marginalized. They've warned of unspecified action unless Gbagbo steps down. Mbeki has spent the past two days shuttling between the presidential rivals. Ouattara sent this message to Gbagbo, through the mediator.

Mr. ALASSANE OUATTARA (Presidential candidate, Ivory Coast): (Through translator) I told President Mbeki, very clearly, I am the president of Ivory Coast and that I am receiving him in that capacity. And I'm asking him to urge Mr. Gbagbo not to cling to power and to step aside as he should do after losing an election.

QUIST-ARCTON: Neither side seems prepared to compromise. The military have reopened air, land and sea borders and Gbagbo says everyone should return to work and to school.

But the situation remains tense. Plumes of black smoke billowed in some neighborhoods here in Abidjan yesterday, where young men burned tires and demanded Gbagbo's departure. The leader of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots Movement say Ouattara should go.

Mr. CHARLES BLE GOUDE (Young Patriots Movement): Our laws are meant to be respected. You can't declare the results of an election in a hotel.

QUIST-ARCTON: With both sides refusing to budge, that's making it tough on the mediator, Thabo Mbeki. He failed to strike a deal, but made this appeal to the rival leaders before leaving Ivory Coast last night.

Mr. MBEKI: The African Union is very, very, very keen, indeed, that peace in Cote d'Ivoire should be sustained and that also, every effort should be made to ensure that indeed this transition to democracy succeeds. Cote d'Ivoire needs peace and Cote d'Ivoire needs democracy.

QUIST-ARCTON: Anxious Ivorians, like Eric Agneho, just want their political leaders to reconcile and an end to the presidential power struggle.

Mr. ERIC AGNEHO: I don't know, I don't know. I feel like a nightmare, you know. People are getting tired now. And we don't know when it's going to end. It's a nightmare, it's a nightmare. Today, it's like d�j� vu.

QUIST-ARCTON: Analysts warn that, without a resolution, there could be a return to hostilities or even civil war in Ivory Coast, with a possible spillover across its borders.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abidjan.

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