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In Ivory Coast, Steps Toward Mediation Not Quelling Fears of Violence

January 4, 2011 at 4:53 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Next: the political standoff in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. Two men still claim victory in that country’s month-old presidential election, and leaders from the regional organization ECOWAS continue to search for a resolution.

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News narrates this update.

LINDSEY HILSUM: One country, two presidents — Alassane Ouattara, endorsed by the U.N. as the election winner, but besieged by troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to leave office.

African leaders say they will force Mr. Gbagbo out, if necessary, but today said mediation was still possible.

JAMES VICTOR GBEHO, president, Economic Community of West African State Commission: The initial contacts with both President Gbagbo and President Ouattara indicated some promise of getting them to agree on certain essential elements in order to obviate the force option.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Today, the African leaders team reported to the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, that Mr. Gbagbo had agreed to negotiate without preconditions. But it’s not clear exactly about what, his exit or some role for him in a new government.

Mr. Ouattara says he won’t meet his rival.

GOODLUCK JONATHAN, Nigerian president: So, when there is a major disagreement in a country, you don’t expect it to be done overnight. Even husband and wife, sometimes, when they quarrel seriously, it takes them weeks or months to reconcile properly. So, don’t expect that, if there’s a major crisis in a country, that you just jump in one week, and that matter is resolved.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Mr. Gbagbo promised to lift the siege of the hotel where Mr. Ouattara is holed up, but he hasn’t.

Although it’s largely calm in Abidjan now, overnight, opposition headquarters were attacked by security forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo. Last week, Mr. Gbagbo’s Young Patriot movement rallied against armed intervention by neighboring countries. Mr. Gbagbo can call on unemployed youth and militia to attack opponents any time he wants.

And today’s tentative steps towards mediation haven’t quelled fears of further violence.

GWEN IFILL: At last public count, more than 170 people had lost their lives in the post-election turmoil.