February 5, 2011 / 5:30 PM / in 9 years

I.Coast Gbagbo backers protest against African Union

* Supporters object to AU panel trying to solve crisis

* Want Burkina Faso president taken off the panel

By Ange Aboa

ABIDJAN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Several thousand youths loyal to Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbagbo marched through Abidjan on Saturday to protest the presence of Burkina Faso’s president on a mediation panel aiming to resolve a post-election crisis.

At the end of last month, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council gave five African leaders a one-month mandate to seek a solution to the violent power struggle between Gbagbo and rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara. Their conclusions are intended to be binding on both sides.

Several previous AU mediation efforts have failed.

Ouattara was declared winner of a Nov. 28 vote according to U.N.-certified results. But Gbagbo has refused to concede and has the backing of the military, which he has used to entrench his position and besiege the hotel his rival is using as a base.

He has rejected huge international pressure, financial sanctions and threats of force by West African neighbours.

The Constitutional Council, which is run by a staunch Gbagbo ally, annulled tens of thousands of votes in pro-Ouattara strongholds on grounds of fraud, so Gbagbo’s supporters argue he is constitutionally the winner.

“The (AU) panel cannot rewrite our constitution, it can only respect our constitution,” Gbagbo’s youth leader, Ble Goude, told the rally, drawing loud applause. “

The election was supposed to draw a line under years of political and military stalemate since a 2002-03 war partitioned the world’s top cocoa-growing country, but has only worsened the divisions that sparked the conflict in the first place.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who earlier mediated in the Ivory Coast conflict but who diplomats say is furious with Gbagbo for refusing to accept the election results, is on the African Union panel.

“No, no to Compaore!” the crowd shouted.

Gbagbo’s supporters accuse Compaore of abetting the 2002 rebellion by Ivorian troops of northern origin.

“Blaise Compaore was the mediator but he has become complicit in the Ivorian crisis,” Goude said.

Gbagbo has officially accepted the panel, but he has a habit of expressing his discontent by mobilising his supporters to demonstrate in the streets. (Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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