UN, OAU Urge New I Coast Presidential Poll, France Disagrees
France stood alone Friday in refusing to join international calls for once-stable Ivory Coast to hold a replay of its controversial presidential poll to prevent the country sliding into chaos.
African leaders, along with UN chief Kofi Annan, fear that after decades of calm, the Ivory Coast could descend into ethnic and religious chaos unless the controversy over the election last Sunday is cleared up by holding a new round of voting.
The elections, organized by a military junta in office for the past 10 months, barred many potential contenders from standing, notably former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim from the north whose supporters have taken to the streets to demand a new poll.
Scores of people died Thursday in violence pitting Ouattara supporters against the backers of Laurent Gbagbo, who is from the Christian south and has been declared official winner of Sunday's presidential race.
Annan, in a statement through his spokesman, said he "deplored the current electoral process, which deprived the people of Cote d'Ivoire of the opportunity to freely exercise their rights and elect their leaders."
Regretting "the loss of innocent lives during the ongoing demonstrations", he noted that "there is now an opportunity to put in place a democratic political process that will allow the people of Cote d'Ivoire to freely elect their leaders."
Annan's statement followed that of the chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Togolese president Gnassingbe Eyadema, who in Berlin on Thursday called for a re-run of the vote while appealing for calm.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose country has a leading voice across the continent, also called for a replay vote, warning of the danger otherwise of "enormous conflict".
In Washington, the United States overnight tilted in favor of a new election to clear up claims of illegitimacy over a vote from which 14 out of 19 candidates were excluded.
"The holding of free, fair and inclusive elections will be needed to get back to democracy," said deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.
But the Socialist administration in Paris, where Gbagbo, also a socialist, has many old friends, appeared implicitly to accept the legitimacy of the election.
In a statement, the former colonial power in the west African country merely called for parliamentary elections, due in December, to be held on schedule so that "all Ivorian political forces can take part in the democratic debate."
It added that there was a "need to return to calm and stability. France calls on all Ivorian leaders to contribute to that by showing their spirit of responsibility" -- PARIS (AFP)
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