, ABIDJAN, Jan 11 – The party of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday rejected an offer from the man deemed to have beaten him to the presidency to form a unity cabinet in order to end a political crisis.
Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) head Pascal Affi N\’Guessan told AFP the victory over Alassane Ouattara was "non-negotiable" after a Ouattara envoy said the rival camps could work together, provided Gbagbo stand down as president.
As the stand-off intensifed, the African Union mediator seeking an end to the crisis said he would return to Abidjan within days for another effort to bridge the yawning gap between the two leaders.
Both men have been sworn in as president, after the Independent Electoral Commission, the UN and most of the world said Ouattara won, while the Constitutional Council alleged vote irregularities and declared Gbagbo victor.
"The problem is Alassane Ouattara\’s rebellion against the Constitutional Council\’s decision," N\’Guessan insisted.
"The starting point is that Mr Gbagbo is the elected and officially proclaimed president, sworn in by the Constitutional Council," he said, accusing Ouattara of diversionary tactics.
"What is non-negotiable is the victory of Laurent Gbagbo, officially elected and proclaimed, who governs the country.
"Once this is recognised… we are ready to look at all means that could allow the return of peace and the country\’s reunification," he said.
UN ambassador Youssoufou Bamba, appointed by Ouattara and admitted as envoy at the UN headquarters in New York last month, said in an interview released Monday that a unity government was possible, provided Gbagbo concede defeat.
Ouattara has won the disputed election, has been recognised by the international community and is the "legitimate president", Bamba told the BBC, adding that "from there, Mr Gbagbo is not alone".
"He has followers, he has competent people in his party. Those people, we are prepared to work with them. In the framework of a wide composite cabinet."
AU envoy and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga will fly to Abidjan within days, his spokesman said, the latest in a cascade of African leaders seeking an end to the crisis in which at least 200 have have died.
"The PM has indicated that he will return to Ivory Coast this week. The date of his return will be either Thursday or Friday," Dennis Onyango told AFP.
The Kenyan leader will first brief AU Commission head Jean Ping in Nairobi on Wednesday before heading to Ivory Coast. West African regional bloc ECOWAS has said it could send in troops if Gbagbo refuses to relinquish power.
N\’Guessan said all mediation initiatives were welcome, despite the lack of any visible sign of progress from the efforts so far.
"We encourage all national and international initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful solution," he said.
Gbagbo and his supporters are becoming increasingly isolated as international powers ramp up pressure on the strongman to step aside.
Ouattara is protected at the besieged Golf Hotel in Abidjan by around 800 UN peacekeepers as well as the ex-rebel New Forces allied with his camp since troops shot dead several of his supporters on December 16.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was the latest regional figure to attempt to mediate an end to the crisis. He left Ivory Coast on Monday after two days trying to find a way through the deadlock.