January 19, 2011 / 7:51 AM / 7 years ago

AU's Odinga cuts short Ivory Coast mission

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The African Union’s mediator for Ivory Coast will cut short a trip to the country, his spokesman said on Tuesday, after failing to make a breakthrough in efforts to resolve the country’s power struggle.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga arrived for talks on Monday and had been initially expected to stay for some days as part of efforts to persuade Laurent Gbagbo to step aside as president after an election his rival Alassane Ouattara is widely recognised to have won.

“No, he’s not given up on this process,” Odinga’s spokesman Salim Lone told Reuters by telephone. “He’s leaving tomorrow morning, then going to Ghana, Burkina Faso and South Africa to push for the AU leaders to respect the AU position (that Gbagbo must step down)”.

Lone, who earlier said Odinga believed he was making progress, did not give a reason for the curtailed visit, the latest in a series of failed efforts to force Gbagbo out.

Ouattara is recognised by Western and African governments as president-elect, after the electoral commission proclaimed him winner of the November 28 presidential poll and the results were certified by the U.N. mission.

However, Gbagbo has refused to step down and he retains control of government buildings, state television and the security forces, while Ouattara’s parallel administration is based in a U.N.-guarded hotel under siege by pro-Gbagbo forces.

Gbagbo has said he is ready for talks but Ouattara says they are only possible once Gbagbo has stepped down.

Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, called for a “dead nation” -- a general strike starting on Tuesday, after two previous strike calls went unheeded. Traffic was only slightly lighter on Abidjan’s palm-lined roads and many shops were open.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while efforts continue to squeeze his access to funds.

The latest measure saw EU-registered vessels at the weekend barred from new financial dealings with Ivorian ports but cocoa exporters said business was continuing as normal on Monday.

“We had a meeting with the major shippers and all they are saying is that they are awaiting instructions from Europe but, in the meantime, nothing has changed,” said one exporter, who asked not to be named.

Cocoa output from the world’s biggest producer is higher than last year despite the crisis, exporters have said.

Ivory Coast missed a payment on its $2.3 billion bond at the end of December, but has until February 1 before it goes into default.

LIMITED STRIKE ACTION

In some pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods, youths burned tyres in the road, witnesses said. But many ignored the strike call.

“There’s nothing else we can do, we have to work. And then they go and announce there’s a general strike. So what shall we do to eat?” said property agent Simon Dago, on a street bustling with hooting taxis and women carrying baskets of goods for sale.

The U.N. mission estimates at least 247 people have been killed since the dispute began, many in night-time raids by security forces or allied militias in pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods. Gbagbo’s camp denies this.

As relations between Gbagbo and the mission deteriorate, his forces and supporters have attacked U.N. patrols.

Peacekeepers fired warning shots to disperse pro-Gbagbo youths who surrounded them near Odinga’s hotel on Monday, witnesses said, prompting police to fire warning shots back.

Diplomats at the United Nations said Russia on Tuesday delayed a Security Council vote on sending more troops to Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, military chiefs of West African regional bloc ECOWAS met in Mali on Tuesday to discuss the planning of a possible military ouster of Gbagbo, which has been threatened but nations appear divided on the feasibility of carrying out.

General Mahamane Toure, in charge of peace and security at the ECOWAS Commission, said all possible methods would be looked at before deciding on force.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, a neighbour of Ivory Coast’s which is still recovering from its own war, also underscored regional fears over a military solution.

“We hope that with the many mediation efforts under way, military intervention will not be necessary because we all know of the consequences of that,” she said.

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