Ivory Coast President Ouattara to meet predecessors in reconciliation drive

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Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara will hold a rare meeting on Thursday with his predecessors and longtime rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bedie in an effort to reconcile the West African nation ahead of elections in 2025.

The three men have dominated Ivory Coast’s fractious political scene since the 1990s. Bedie was president from 1993 until his ouster in a 1999 coup. Gbagbo governed from 2000 until his election defeat to Ouattara in 2010.

Tensions came to a head most dramatically after the 2010 election. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, leading to a brief civil war that killed about 3,000 people before rebel forces aligned with Ouattara swept into the main city Abidjan.

Gbagbo was sent to the The Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. He was acquitted in 2019 and returned to Ivory Coast last year.

Ouattara has presided over relative stability during his decade in power. But dozens of people were killed in clashes that broke out around the 2020 election, when he stood for a third term that Gbagbo and Bedie said was unconstitutional.

“The meeting on July 14 is another strong commitment by the head of state to peace,” the government said in a statement. “The ball is now in the court of the two opposition leaders, who must also demonstrate their desire to work for peace.”

Representatives of Gbagbo’s and Bedie’s parties confirmed the two would attend the meeting scheduled for late in the afternoon.

Ouattara has not yet said whether he plans to run for a fourth term in 2025. He has said he would like to step down but also suggested he would need Gbagbo and Bedie to commit to withdrawing from politics in order to do so.

“It would be really interesting if the three figures agreed to withdraw from political life to leave a place for the new generation,” political analyst Julien Geoffroy Kouao told Reuters.

“For three decades, they have been at the heart of the political problems in Ivory Coast. The three of them therefore have the solution,” he said.