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Ivory Coast police fire live rounds to disperse protest as African Union ponders mediation

Police loyal to Ivory Coast's renegade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo today dispersed a rally led by supporters of President-elect Alassane Ouattara.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer, Drew HinshawCorrespondent / February 19, 2011

Protesters stand near burning tires at a road block in the Abobo suburb of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, on Saturday. Ivorian security forces fired live bullets and teargas to disperse the protesters.

Luc Gnago/Reuters

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Dakar, Senegal

Police in Ivory Coast dispersed a planned rally of supporters of President-elect Alassane Ouattara today, firing live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds in Abobo, a suburb of the country's commercial capital, Abidjan.

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Today’s crackdown followed confrontations last week in which police fired on supporters of Mr. Ouattara, reportedly killing six. Another confrontation last night, in the Abidjan suburb of Treichville left two Ouattara supporters dead.

The planned protests come after Ouattara called for mass demonstrations to force renegade incumbent President Gbagbo to step down after losing the Nov. 28 election by a ten percent margin. But Mr. Gbagbo still refuses to step down and instead has called for curfews to keep street protests to a minimum.

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The resulting stalemate appears to have little room for negotiation. But South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and four other African presidents are due to arrive in Abidjan on Monday on a three-day negotiation mission. On Thursday, Mr. Zuma’s deputy foreign minister called the election results “inconclusive” and said that South Africa would stop looking “backward” at election results and instead look “forward” toward some resolution, an approach that many experts see as akin to a powersharing agreement.

Such an arrangement may be palatable to Gbagbo, who otherwise has nowhere else to go. Western donors have cut off aid, European countries have cut off his access to Ivorian bank funds, regional African banks have closed their doors (prompting Gbagbo to seize their assets), and most Western governments have recognized Ouattara as the winner. Zuma’s deputy foreign minister told reporters in Cape Town that both sides had approached the South African government to start a mediation process.

Yet something appears to have been lost in translation.

Zuma’s planned mediation has drawn withering criticism from Ouattara’s camp.

At a press conference Thursday, Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro called the negotiation plan a non-starter.

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