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Raila, team meet Ecowas boss over Ivorian progress

By | January 5th 2011

By David Ochami and Agencies

Prime Minister Raila Odinga arrived in Abuja Tuesday to brief President Goodwill Jonathan on the Ivorian crisis after meeting the rival claimants to Ivory Coast’s presidency.

Raila has urged the two, who claim to have won the November 28 presidential elections, to hold direct talks, according to reports from West Africa as the Nigerian president warned late Monday that the stalemate in Ivory Coast was not subsiding.

Jonathan said: "Don’t expect that if there’s a major crisis in a country that we just jump in... and the matter is resolved."

Raila and presidents Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde and Boni Yayi of Benin briefed Jonathan, who is the president of the regional Economic Community of West African States.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga (right) is welcomed by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo at the presidential palace in Abidjan on Monday. Raila and other African leaders are in Ivory Coast to try and convince Gbagbo to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara. [PHOTO: REUTERS

Media agencies quoted regional officials warning that Ecowas is about to decide on "further steps" to end the post-election crisis.

On arrival in the Nigeria capital yesterday, Raila told AFP news agency that President Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, who also claims the presidency with international backing, have agreed to meet "face to face" under "certain conditions".

However, Mr Ouattara’s spokesman denied reports of imminent meetings between the two leaders.

On Monday, Raila who is the African Union special envoy to the Ivory Coast, together with three presidents, met Mr Gbagbo and Ouattara in Abidjan.

He held two meetings with Gbagbo and a separate one with Ouattara accompanied by three West African presidents sent by Ecowas, which has threatened to remove Gbagbo by force if he does not cede power.

Meet under conditions

China’s Xinhua news agency and AFP quoted the Kenya premier saying in Abuja following the Abidjan meetings with the two leaders, the mediating leaders had "broken the ice" and secured a conditional meeting between Gbagbo and Ouattara.

The news agencies quoted Raila telling pressmen in Abuja that the Ivorian leaders could meet under certain conditions.

"They have agreed to meet face to face but under certain conditions," Raila reportedly said.

But other news agencies quoted Ouattara’s spokesman Ali Coulibaly denying reports of a breakthrough.

Ali said Raila proposed a meeting between the rivals, which Ouattara rejected. "This proposal (of face to face discussions) was made by Odinga and we completely rejected it."

The spokesman said Ouattara, a former premier has no intention of relaxing his demand that Gbagbo cedes power to him.

"He (Gbagbo) must leave office immediately," said Ali as news reports indicated the renegade Ivorian leader has refused a US proposal to grant him safe refuge with his assets in Atlanta, Georgia where his relatives live.

BBC reported later in the evening the regional leaders said Gbagbo had agreed to negotiate a "peaceful end" to his country’s crisis without preconditions.

According to BBC, the chairman of the Ecowas regional group said Gbagbo had agreed to immediately lift the blockade around the temporary headquarters of his presidential rival Ouattara.

UN protection

UN regards Ouattara the winner of the elections but Gbagbo, the incumbent, refuses to cede power.

The BBC’s John James in Ivory Coast’s business capital, Abidjan, said it is important not to over-emphasise the importance of Gbagbo’s statement because "he has given no indication he is willing to step down".

The news agency said Ouattara, who is holed up in a hotel protected by UN peacekeepers, had indicated he was willing to talk, as long as Gbagbo accepts the internationally agreed election results.

Meanwhile, UN Human Rights chief in Ivory Coast has condemned the "wave of human rights violations" in the country.

Simon Munzu listed abuses including "extrajudicial killing, abduction, massive illegal arrests and detentions, and physical injury to many people".

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