News / Africa

    Ouattara Takes Oath of Office as Ivory Coast President

    Alassane Ouattara is sworn into office as Ivory Coast's president on May 6, 2011 at the presidential palace in Abidjan after months of political violence
    Alassane Ouattara is sworn into office as Ivory Coast's president on May 6, 2011 at the presidential palace in Abidjan after months of political violence

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    Ivory Coast's president has taken the oath of office, formally ending the violent political crisis that followed November's disputed election. A U.N. human rights team is investigating a possible mass grave in an Abidjan suburb where the new national army has been battling loyalists of the ousted president.

    President Alassane Ouattara swore to respect and defend Ivory Coast's constitution and protect the rights and liberties of all citizens.

    In a brief ceremony at Abidjan's presidential palace, he said it is the start of a new era of reconciliation and unity for all Ivorians.

    Ouattara has been the country's de facto leader since last month's capture of former president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to hand over power sparked a wave of political violence.

    Gbagbo is now under house arrest in northern Ivory Coast where prosecutors Friday questioned him about his alleged role in that violence. Two French lawyers retained by his daughter were turned back at Abidjan's airport.

    President Ouattara's office says he will have a formal inauguration in the political capital Yamoussoukro May 21. Friday's oath of office followed the constitutional council officially making him president.

    Constitutional council president Paul Yao N'dre says the council endorses the African Union decision to settle the crisis and therefore proclaims Alassane Ouattara President of the Republic of Ivory Coast.

    N'dre helped set off this political crisis five months ago by annulling as fraudulent nearly ten percent of all ballots cast to announce Gbagbo's re-election. The United Nations certified electoral commission results that showed Ouattara won the vote by eight percent.

    N'dre says the council overturned its previous ruling because Ivory Coast is a member of the African Union and recognizes "international norms and standards accepted by competent national organs" as more authoritative than internal decisions.

    Fighting in Abidjan's Yopougon neighborhood has continued as militia still loyal to Gbagbo are holding out against Ouattara's new national army.

    Red Cross officials say they have collected 60 bodies in Youpougon this week. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says investigators are examining a possible link between an alleged mass grave in the neighborhood and a Wednesday attack on a Baptist church.

    Ouattara is moving to restore security in Abidjan. He has already reopened banks and resumed cocoa exports.

    The European Union is delivering $63 million of aid for the agricultural and justice sectors as the first installment of what will eventually be $261 million  in assistance.

    The United States is providing $43 million to help relief groups deliver health care, clean water, and household items to displaced civilians.

    World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says the priority now is reopening health centers that were closed by the political crisis.

    "In regions of Montagna Moyen Cavally, 55 out of 106 health centers are not operational and five out of eight hospitals. And this is due to the lack of personnel. It is due to looting of drugs and medical equipment or partial or total destruction of health infrastructures. Sixty percent of health workers are absent, and those who have stayed have not received salaries for three months," he said.

    WHO says it is working to help pay health workers in Ivory Coast, especially in rural areas. It says most of the health centers in Abidjan are open but do not have enough supplies.

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