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Mediators try to intervene in Ivory Coast chaos

Supporters of Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara protest in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Saturday. Protests in the streets erupted after two presidential candidates both claimed victory in the recent election, essentially splitting the country in half.

Associated Press

Supporters of Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara protest in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Saturday. Protests in the streets erupted after two presidential candidates both claimed victory in the recent election, essentially splitting the country in half.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — International mediators tried to intervene Sunday in Ivory Coast's growing political crisis after both candidates in the disputed election said they were now president, raising fears the country could again be divided in two.

In the northern opposition stronghold of Bouake, several hundred people marched down a main boulevard Sunday afternoon, calling for incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to stand down. Villagers wielding machetes also created their own checkpoint in a protest along one major road in the region.

"It's important not to have violence, not to return to war — to find a peaceful solution," former South African President Thabo Mbeki said Sunday after arriving in Abidjan to try to mediate at the behest of the African Union.

The international community has recognized opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the presidential runoff vote held one week ago in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer.

That, however, did not stop Gbagbo from defying calls to concede. On Saturday, he wrapped himself in the Ivorian flag as he was sworn in for another term at the presidential palace.

Hours later, Ouattara told reporters he too had been sworn into office. Ouattara then named a prime minister. On Sunday night, Gbagbo followed suit and on state TV, the ticker running under the main TV news announced that college professor N'Gbo Gilbert Marie Ake had assumed the post of prime minister.

The development effectively set up parallel governments and raised serious questions about who was actually in charge of this West African nation, which was split into a rebel-controlled north and government-controlled south by a 2002-03 civil war. Despite Ouattara's international support, Gbagbo holds many of the key elements of power, including the army and the state media.

The rivals' support also falls along geographical lines, with Gbagbo controlling the south and Ouattara controlling the north. This has led to speculation that each president may govern over his half of the country, in a de-facto redivision of the territory along lines established during the war. The country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal.

Revised results released Friday showing Gbagbo won re-election did not include a half million votes cast in Ouattara strongholds in the north. The constitutional council said that was because there was evidence pro-Gbagbo voters had been intimidated. The move infuriated residents in areas where votes were thrown out, some of whom blocked a major road Sunday with tree trunks and rocks in protest.

"We are no longer considered Ivorian," said 48-year-old Ali Coulibaly, as other people lay in the road nearby to block cars from passing near the northern village of Djebonoua.

National identity remains at the heart of the split between the loyalist-held south and the north; northerners have long complained they are treated as foreigners in their own country by southerners.

The question of who would even be allowed to vote in this long-awaited election took years to settle as officials tried to differentiate between Ivorians with roots in neighboring countries and foreigners. Ouattara, born in the north, had himself been prevented from running in previous elections after accusations that he was not Ivorian, and that he was of Bur kinabe origin.

Mediators try to intervene in Ivory Coast chaos 12/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:38pm]

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