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African Union Panel Heads to Ivory Coast Monday


Five heads of state from the African Union are expected to travel to Ivory Coast on Monday in hopes of resolving the political crisis between rival governments there.

The leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania will go to Abidjan to meet with incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and the United Nations-certified winner of November's presidential election, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. Gbagbo says he was reelected when the constitutional counsel annulled as fraudulent nearly 10 percent of all of the ballots cast. Mr. Ouattara says he is the president based on the results announced by Ivory Coast's electoral commission and certified by the United Nations.

The heads of state panel has one week to find a way to resolve this political standoff, a resolution that the African Union says will be legally binding on all Ivorians. But the African Union has no means of enforcing the provision.

Mr. Gbagbo's government says the panel must not challenge the legitimacy of the constitutional counsel declaration that named him the winner in the election. Mr. Ouattara's government refuses to share power with Mr. Gbagbo and says it will not accept a recount of the ballots.

The heads of state panel met for more than six hours in Mauritania on Sunday to discuss the issue along with African Union Chairman Jean Ping and the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit. They considered a report on the political crisis that was prepared by a group of African Union experts, but made no public comment following their talks in Nouakchott.

The United Nations says nearly 300 people have been killed in post-election violence. Ivory Coast's economy is deteriorating under international sanctions, a ban on cocoa exports and the closing of most major banks.

Mr. Gbagbo's government says local branches of the banks Societe Generale and BNP Paribas will reopen on Monday. They were nationalized in a move that the French government says is illegal.

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