ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo must concede the presidency and accept his rival Alassane Ouattara as head of state before talks can begin on settling their power struggle, Ouattara’s camp said on Saturday.
Gbagbo has floated the idea of talks to end a row over who won an election on November 28, which was meant to reunify the world’s top cocoa producer but has instead left it paralysed with parallel administrations and many fearing further violence.
Both sides have dug in and Ouattara’s camp stressed that Gbagbo must recognise that he lost the election.
“We have never been against dialogue but it must start with the recognition of Alassane Ouattara as president,” Patrick Achi, spokesman for the government that Ouattara has set up in a lagoon-side hotel, protected by United Nations peacekeepers. “If we don’t get that, there is nothing.”
Ivory Coast’s election commission declared Ouattara winner with 54 percent of the vote, a decision that was backed by the U.N. mission, which had copies of the results from almost every polling station and must certify them under the terms of a peace deal that was meant to reunite a nation split by a 2002-3 war.
Ouattara has been recognised as president by world leaders and regional bodies. But the Constitutional Council, Ivory Coast’s highest legal authority, which is headed by a Gbagbo ally, cancelled hundreds of thousands of votes due to alleged fraud, and named Gbagbo the winner.
At a news conference in Gbagbo’s party headquarters in an Abidjan suburb, spokesman Williams Ateby said he had no information on talks between the camps but did not rule them out.
“If there are talks ... you will know about them,” he said.
But he urged Ouattara to respect the Constitutional Council’s decision to annul votes in rebel-held districts and proclaim Gbagbo winner.
The African Union has suspended Ivory Coast until Gbagbo quits, and the United States has threatened sanctions against him and his family. However, he retains control of the armed forces and has rejected criticism as foreign meddling.
Achi said Ouattara’s camp was expecting the West African central bank, BCEAO, to announce at a meeting in Togo on December 15 that it no longer recognised officials appointed by Gbagbo. The bank has not yet commented publicly on the row.
“In terms of posturing, (Gbagbo’s offer) is not surprising,” said Gilles Yabi, an independent political analyst. “He is completely isolated, even in this region. Maybe the offer is meant to try and ease the isolation.
“I don’t think he expected Ouattara to take him up on it, but he wanted to give a sense that things were normalising and he wanted to resolve the crisis.”
Gbagbo has been in power since winning another disputed election in 2000, when thousands of his supporters took to the streets to help oust military coup leader General Robert Guei, accused of trying to rig the poll.
A brief civil war erupted in 2002, and polls due in 2005 were then repeatedly put off as Ivory Coast, once a haven of stability and the region’s brightest economic prospect, was caught up in a series of peace deals and political wrangling.
The United Nations, the African Union and the West African regional body ECOWAS have all backed Ouattara.
Nigeria, the current head of ECOWAS, has also dismissed the idea of a unity government, citing problems with similar arrangements in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
“Ouattara is recognised as president by all the serious actors, which puts him in a strong diplomatic position, even if he is weak on the ground,” Yabi said.
Rebel forces still controlling the north of the country have also sided with Ouattara, but military officers have appeared several times on state television to support Gbagbo.
Additional reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey