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West African bloc takes tough stance on Ivory Coast

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The bloc is dealing only with Ouattara, its president says
  • The incumbent says he will "sit down and talk" with his challenger
  • Gbeho says it's "premature" to think Gbago won't give up power

(CNN) -- The head of a West African group of nations rejects the idea of power-sharing talks in the aftermath of the disputed Ivory Coast election, its president said Saturday.

James Victor Gbeho, president of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, told CNN it intends to deal only with Alassane Ouattara -- the presidential candidate whose "clear" and widely recognized victory was instead claimed by incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

"From now on, ECOWAS will deal with Ouattara, not Gbagbo," Gbeho said. "There is nothing to negotiate as far as ECOWAS is concerned."

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claimed victory in the runoff, but the African nation's Constitutional Council invalidated earlier results from the Independent Electoral Commission that declared Ouattara the winner, and Gbagbo was sworn in for a new term December 4.

The result prompted criticism in Africa and across the globe. The political chaos has heightened fears that the Ivory Coast would once again plunge into the unrest and bloodshed suffered after a civil war broke out in 2002.

The European Union has warned that Ivory Coast could face sanctions if the dispute is not resolved swiftly, and France has urged military and civilian authorities in its former colony to respect the will of the people.

The African Union suspended Ivory Coast from the organization "until such a time the democratically-elected president effectively assumes state power."

The AU's move followed a call from ECOWAS for Gbagbo to acknowledge the results of the runoff and hand over power to Ouattara.

Young-Jin Choi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy, met with Ouattara and said Friday that Gbagbo had agreed to meet with him.

Facing increasing international criticism and the threat of sanctions, Gbagbo said he would "sit down and talk" with his challenger in last month's presidential election.

But ECOWAS president Gbeho sloughed off the idea of talks to resolve the issue, emphasizing the fact that the different entities monitoring the elections concluded that Ouattara won.

Power-sharing, he said, "is not going to advance democracy."

Gbeho said the situation represents a bad scenario: a leader loses an election, then calls on the military to support him, and concludes that power-sharing must be hammered out in negotiations.

The ECOWAS president asserted that Gbagbo should accept defeat and yield power to Ouattara, and Gbagbo should be given days or weeks to consider how to exit power.

Gbeho said Gbagbo is going to find his government isolated and that not all of the soldiers support him. And even if he did control the military, he doesn't have control over the civil service and Ivory Coast citizens.

Expressing confidence that a power shift could play out, Gbeho said, "rushing to judgment that he (Gbagbo) will not give up power is premature."

Once a prosperous nation and a driving force in West Africa, Ivory Coast spiraled downward into instability after fighting erupted between the government-held south and discontented Muslim rebels living in the north. Thousands of people died in the conflict.

Ouattara, a former economist for the International Monetary Fund who served as prime minister, had been banned from previous races. He enjoys popular support in the rebel-held north, and Gbagbo has accused Ouattara of masterminding the civil war -- an allegation the challenger has denied.