x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Mbeki to mediate after rival candidates declare victory in Ivory Coast election

The former South African president Thabo Mbeki is in the Ivory Coast to help mediate the country's deepening political crisis.

ABIDJAN // The former South African president Thabo Mbeki is in Ivory Coast to help mediate the country's deepening political crisis.

Aides to the rival political candidates say Mr Mbeki arrived yesterday in Abidjan, a day after both candidates announced they'd been sworn into office after both claiming victory.

The United States, France and the United Nations say the opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, won the run-off vote held one week ago, but the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede, instead holding an inauguration ceremony on Saturday. That leaves Ivory Coast with two men who both claim to be president, furthering inflaming the political chaos in the West African nation whose once-prosperous economy was destroyed by a 2002-2003 civil war.

There were few details available of the schedule for Mr Mbeki's visit, in which he is seeking a peaceful resolution to the deadlock between the two rivals that risks erupting into large-scale violence.

The African Union entrusted Mr Mbeki "with an emergency mission to Cote d'Ivoire in order to find a legitimate and peaceful solution to the crisis", it said after a meeting on Saturday, referring to the country by its French name.

As Mr Gbagbo's allies hung the chain of office around his neck at a ceremony on Saturday, ex-prime minister Alassane Ouattara swore himself in as president in a handwritten letter.

UN-certified results from last Sunday's run-off vote showed Ouattara as the winner, but Gbagbo's high court allies overturned them by annulling allegedly rigged ballots in parts of the north, his rival's stronghold.

The United States, European Union and others have recognised Ouattara as Ivory Coast's new president. The African Union also recognised the Independent Electoral Commission's result that gave him victory, condemning any attempt to seize power by a "fait accompli".

Such a move would further complicate "an already serious situation" and plunge the country into "a crisis of incalculable consequences", it warned.

But Mr Gbagbo refused to step aside and told outsiders to mind their own business.

"In recent days I have noted serious cases of interference," he said at the presidential headquarters after being sworn in before a roomful of whooping, clapping supporters.

"I am charged with defending our sovereignty, and I will not negotiate on that," he said. "I wish various people would pull themselves together."

Mr Ouattara countered by signing a handwritten oath of office and sending it in his "capacity as president" to the Constitutional Council, the court authorised to certify election results and declare the new president.

The Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, the leader of the New Forces movement that controls the north, offered his resignation to Mr Ouattara, who immediately reappointed him to the post, in front of reporters.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse