, YAMOUSSOUKRO, May 20 – Alassane Ouattara is due to be sworn in Saturday as the president of long-troubled Ivory Coast, which he hopes to reunite after a bloody crisis when his predecessor refused to step down.
The investiture ceremony will take place at 10:30 am (1030 GMT) in the political capital Yamoussoukro, the village that is the birthplace of the "father of the nation," Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who died in 1993 after 33 years in power. Ouattara was his prime minister from 1990 to 1993.
According to the organising committee, 23 heads of state are expected in Yamoussoukro, led by the president of the former colonial power France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who will make a brief return trip, like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
African leaders invited include Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, the acting president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Blaise Compaore of neighbouring Burkina Faso, who has been a mediator in the Ivorian crisis, Ali Bongo of Gabon, and the chairman of the commission of the African Union Jean Ping.
Ouattara, 69, will be made head of state almost six months after the presidential election of November 28, 2010, when he took on the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to admit defeat at the polls after 10 years in power. Gbagbo\’s stubbornness plunged an already divided country into a serious conflict that claimed almost 3,000 lives.
The new president took power after the arrest on April 11 of Gbagbo, after two weeks of fighting between troops who remained loyal to the former head of state and Ouattara\’s forces, who were backed by UN troops from a force deployed in the west African country and by French troops permanently based there.
Officially proclaimed president on May 5 by the head of the Constitutional Council, Yao N\’Dre, Ouattara took the oath of office the next day.
Yao N\’Dre, who is close to Gbagbo, was the man who on December 3 proclaimed the outgoing president re-elected with 51.45 percent of the votes, undermining results announced by the electoral commission, which gave Ouattara 54.1 percent. The United Nations and several countries including the United States and France backed Ouattara\’s claim to the presidency.
The investiture "will mark a starting point for a new Ivory Coast, a great rally of all Ivorians. Mr. Ouattara will receive the blessing of all the Ivorian people and show the rest of the world that he has been elected head of the whole country," Anne Ouloto, a spokeswoman for the new leader, told AFP.
Since April 11, Ivory Coast has slowly been pulling itself out of political and economic crisis. Civil servants have gone back to work, schools have opened again, the forces of law and order are going about their tasks, and businesses have resumed activity. But the country remains scarred by violence and looting in the past few months.
While the new president has promised reconciliation, notably by setting up an ad hoc commission to tackle the issues, he has also pledged to bring to trial those responsible for crimes committed since November 28, whoever they were.
Gbagbo, his wife Simone and many members of the former regime have been arrested and consigned to house arrest in different towns of the country, in line with an inquiry being carried out by Ivorian prosecutors.
With regard to the most serious crimes, Ouattara has asked the office of the prosecutor in the International Criminal Court to probe and make sure "that the people holding the heaviest penal responsibility for these crimes be identified, pursued and brought to justice before the International Criminal Court".