Progress claimed in Ivorian talks

Despite the optimism, African envoys say use of force 'still an option' if talks with incumbent fail to resolve crisis.

    Odinga, at far right, was part of a four-member African mission seeking to break the Cote d'Ivoire deadlock [Reuters]

    Cote d'Ivoire's disputed leader Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to further talks over a bitter election dispute and has promised to lift a blockade around the temporary headquarters of rival Alassane Ouattara, according to the regional bloc ECOWAS.

    In a statement on Tuesday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union said that that Gbagbo had "agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions".

    But it did not elaborate on what actions that would entail other than lifting a blockade around the hotel where his rival is based.

    "Laurent Gbagbo is willing to negotiate unconditionally, he is willing to meet Allassane Ouattara, he is also willing to lift the blockade surrounding the hotel where Ouattara is held up," Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege reported from Nigeria's capital Abuja, where Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister and AU mediator in the crisis, addressed a news conference.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Odinga attributed Gbagbo's recent shift to the "cloud" forming around him. "He is making a prudent decision" in light of pressure from the international community, as well as the AU and ECOWAS, Odinga said.

    "I think Mr Gbagbo now appreciates the gravity of the situation, the dangers that there are in terms of possibilities of violent confrontations between the two camps, with the possibility of the loss of life," Odinga said.

    ECOWAS has threatened to use military force to oust Gbagbo, who has clung to power more than a month after the UN said he lost the presidential runoff vote to Ouattara after a decade in power.

    Ouattara unwilling

    Despite this slight shift, Gbagbo still refuses to step down as president.

    And Ouattara is not willing to meet Gbagbo until he cedes power, our correspondent said.

    Ali Coulibaly, an Ouattara aide, told the AFP news agency that Ouattara had rejected what mediators said was an offer from Gbagbo to negotiate a resolution.

    "All we're waiting for is for him to go," Coulibaly said. "The rest is of no interest to us. Gbagbo is trying to put people's consciences to sleep. His word has no importance of any kind. What does a peaceful solution mean? We want Gbagbo to go, that's all."

    Al Jazeera's Ndege said Gbagbo "is prepared to consider some sort of power-sharing deal [with Ouattara]. The problem is that Ouattara is not prepared to do that".

    She said some are now starting to perceive Ouattara as part of the problem to securing peace in the region.

    "But because the international community has unreservedly thrown their weight behind Ouattara, it is very difficult for them to come out and say that now actually Allassane Ouattara is a stumbling block to peace," she said.

    Dangerous territory

    Odinga, the Kenyan president, sees Cote d'Ivoire heading into dangerous territory if Gbagbo refuses to give up power. He said he had told Gbagbo that power-sharing is not an option in the troubled west African country.

    "I did tell him that that option is not available here. The Kenyan solution is not really a solution at all. If followed, it will actually hamper the democratisation process on the continent," he said.

    In the next step forward, another delegation will again try to convince Gbagbo to step down; but as yet, there is no timeline for when this will occur.

    Earlier on Tuesday, the rival political leaders agreed on a face-to-face meeting to try to break the deadlock and resolve the country's worsening political crisis over the November 28 presidential runoff.

    The crisis has left more than 170 people dead. In the latest incident, the head of the UN's human rights office reported that at least one person had been killed and as many as 130 arrested during an early morning raid on the headquarters of a party allied with  Ouattara on Tuesday.

    Simon Munzu, UN Human Rights division director, told Al Jazeera that he and his staff were barred from entering the building belonging to the party of Henri Konan Bedie hours after the shootout.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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