ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara took his presidential oath on Friday, cementing his rule over the West African state in a tense ceremony conducted by an ally of ousted leader Laurent Gbagbo.
A dispute over who won a November 2010 election triggered all-out conflict between pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces that killed thousands of people and displaced more than a million, and only eased last month with Gbagbo’s arrest.
“I salute all the members of the Constitutional Council for the courageous decision that they have taken,” Ouattara said after the ceremony held in a room in the presidential palace, scene of some of the worst fighting.
“It has re-established the integrity of the ballot box and given justice to the Ivorian people,” he said. The swearing-in will be followed by a more lavish inauguration in the coming weeks, Ouattara’s government has said.
The ceremony was conducted by Constitutional Council President Paul Yao N’Dre, a close Gbagbo ally who had sworn in the incumbent leader in late November after rejecting U.N.-certified results showing Ouattara won.
N’Dre, who retained his post at the top of the country’s highest legal body despite Gbagbo’s eventual defeat, called in a speech for Ivorians to forgive and reconcile their differences. He was heckled at times by members of the audience.
“Mr. President of the Republic, we are seeking the right words of compassion so that Ivorians and Ivory Coast can forgive in the way that they know how,” he said.
The ceremony, attended by a full house of dignitaries and diplomats including the ambassador from former colonial power France, cut a stark contrast to Gbagbo’s in November, a ramshackle affair attended mostly by the incumbent’s young Patriot youth militia.
Gbagbo is under house arrest in Ivory Coast’s north and is being investigated for alleged human rights abuses committed during the conflict, which tore open the wounds of the country’s 2002-2003 civil war.
Three Paris-based lawyers representing Gbagbo said they sought to enter Ivory Coast on Friday to attend Gbagbo’s scheduled hearing but had been forced to return to France when two of them had their visas refused.
While Gbagbo’s forces have been fingered for most of the reported abuses, the United Nations on Friday said it was also investigating Ouattara’s troops for human rights violations and was checking reports of a mass grave in the Abidjan district of Yopougon.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, is struggling to revive its conflict-shattered economy.
Cocoa exports are poised to resume over the weekend after a more than three-month halt, and the country’s acting agriculture minister said he did not expect the crisis to have cut into this year’s crop.
Writing by Richard Valdmanis, editing by Mark Trevelyan