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Ivory Coast Incumbent President: Nigeria Arming Rebels


Fighters opposed to Laurent Gbagbo's bid to cling to power man a roadblock in the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Saturday, Mar12 2011

Fighters opposed to Laurent Gbagbo's bid to cling to power man a roadblock in the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Saturday, Mar12 2011

Incumbent government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello says Nigeria is giving military assistance to rebels who support the United-Nations-certified winner of Ivory Coast's vote, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara.

In a statement read on national television, Mello says Nigeria has brought nearly 500 mercenaries to the rebel stronghold of Bouake. He says incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo will not hesitate to defend the nation against regional heads of state who, in his words, "lend themselves to this game."

Nigeria's foreign ministry says the allegations are without merit. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is leading efforts for a West African military force to remove Mr. Gbagbo. A regional court Friday temporarily blocked the West African alliance from using force in Ivory Coast as part of a lawsuit filed by Mr. Gbagbo.

The incumbent president was expected to address the nation regarding African Union demands that he step down in favor of Mr. Ouattara, who the African Union last week endorsed as Ivory Coast's duly-elected president. Mello said that Mr. Gbagbo still plans on addressing the nation in the next few days.

But for now, Mr. Gbagbo had Mello read a statement that said he is willing to consider African Union negotiations on the terms of a government of national union. The statement says that dialogue, which is not expected to begin for another two weeks, is "the only guarantee of a peaceful outcome to the crisis, the only way to preserve the safety of citizens."

The African Union has made clear that this is not a power-sharing deal between Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara. Mr. Ouattara is the president and has agreed to include members of Mr. Gbagbo's party in his cabinet.

Mr. Ouattara is offering that government, along with a combined army and a truth and reconciliation commission, as what he calls Mr. Gbagbo's "last chance" to resolve the political crisis peacefully.

The United Nations says a Gbagbo-military mortar attack on a city market that killed at least 25 people may constitute crimes against humanity.

Mr. Gbagbo's government denies any involvement in that attack, saying the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast is not credible because it is backing pro-Ouattara rebels.

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