January 30, 2011 / 8:59 AM / in 9 years

U.N. chief urges Africa to be firm against Gbagbo

* Africa, U.N. must remain unified on Ivory Coast stance

* Condemns attacks on U.N. peacekeepers by Gbagbo forces

By Richard Lough

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Africa and the international community must stand firm against efforts by Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo to cling onto power, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.

Speaking to African leaders and top African Union (AU) officials at an African Union summit late on Saturday, Ban rejected Gbagbo’s offer of a recount of votes to solve a persistent leadership crisis.

Both the United Nations and AU recognise Gbagbo’s challenger Alassane Ouattara as the president-elect of the world’s biggest cocoa producing country.

“We must preserve our unified position, act together, and stand firm against Mr Gbagbo’s attempt to hang onto power through the use of force,” Ban was quoted as telling the meeting in a statement issued on Sunday.

Ban said in Davos on Friday that he was concerned about splits in African efforts to end the crisis.

Within the next 24 hours the AU summit in Ethiopia’s capital is expected to name a panel of five African leaders tasked with finding a legally binding settlement to break the deadlock.

The pan-African body says it is resolute on finding a “political, peaceful and negotiated settlement” to the Ivorian crisis, but it has not ruled out using force as a last resort.

“We have an obligation to remain firm ... and to signal to Africa’s people that our commitment to our principles is real,” said Ban.

Negotiations could pave the way for a form of power-sharing. A source close to the AU mediation efforts led by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Gbagbo should not be included in the executive, but his allies should be.

Similar arrangements have ended election disputes in Kenya and Zimbabwe, but the politics in both has been problematic.

The panel appeared to be more of a victory for Gbagbo as it gives him more time to consolidate his position on the ground.

“The putting in place of a commission corresponds with what we have called for. We hope this commission will move forward with total neutrality,” said Ahoua Don Mello, spokesman for Gbagbo’s government.

Ouattara said in a statement he had taken note of the AU decision to form a panel. But he stressed it should reach conclusions fast because it was nearly two months since the dispute started and the Ivorian people were suffering.

Ban also accused Ivory Coast’s state broadcaster of spreading hate messages and inciting violence and condemned attacks over the past six weeks on U.N. peacekeepers in the West African nation.

“Regrettably ... regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo have obstructed the movement of our peacekeepers, cut their fuel an other vital life support supplies (and) used live fire against them,” said Ban.

Additional reporting by David Lewis in Abidjan; Editing by David Clarke and Elizabeth Fullerton

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