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African Union backs Ouattara as president in Ivory Coast

After months of indecision, the African Union has formally backed opposition candidate Ouattara as Ivory Coast president. Ouattara now has to figure out how to take over a government that the former president refuses to give up.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / March 11, 2011

Supporters of Alassane Ouattara raise their shoes, symbolizing the placing of a curse on Laurent Gbagbo, as they chant 'Gbagbo, thief' after participating in a special Muslim prayer that brought together Christian and Muslim women in honor of the civilians killed in three months of post-election violence, at a mosque in the Treichville neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Friday, March 11.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

Three months after Ivory Coast’s political crisis began, the African Union has called on incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to step down, paving the way for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to finally take on the powers of president.

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The AU’s decision followed a fact-finding mission by five African heads of state, including South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, and months of violence that killed at least 365 people and displaced tens of thousands of others in the capital Abidjan and elsewhere. Mr. Ouattara, who attended the AU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week, is expected to return to Abidjan soon.

Now, all eyes turn to Mr. Gbagbo, who chose not to attend the AU meeting and rejects the AU’s compromise solution, which envisages Mr. Ouattara as president of a power-sharing government that includes members of Gbagbo’s party but not Gbagbo himself. Gbagbo has threatened not to let Ouattara back into the country and has issued an order to prevent continued air supply flights for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Abidjan.

The AU’s decision is a relief to diplomats based in Africa because several AU members seemed to be deeply divided over whether to support Gbagbo or Ouattara. The African Union initially joined the UN, the European Union, and several independent election observer missions in declaring Ouattara the outright winner of the Nov. 28, 2010 elections, but members of the fact-finding mission, notably President Zuma, cast doubt on that election victory and said the results were “inconclusive,” calling instead for a power-sharing deal. Some political analysts say the delay in making a decision may have given Gbagbo time to arm himself and prolong the conflict.

“What the AU has done through prevarication, with their flip flopping, is to give Gbagbo time to dig in his heels and work toward a military resistance to this decision by the AU,” says Aubrey Matshiqi, a senior analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg. “This will cost lives on the ground.”

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