/ 12 May 2011

Ouattara heads to Senegal on first foreign visit

Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara arrived in Senegal on Thursday, where he was given a red-carpet welcome by President Abdoulaye Wade, on his first foreign trip since being sworn in last week.

Wade, who gave him strong support during a five-month fight to wrest power from his rival Laurent Gbagbo after disputed polls, embraced Ouattara warmly as he stepped off the plane.

The two leaders walked hand in hand down the red carpet, serenaded by a military band, before Ouattara shook hands with scores of government ministers and dignitaries.

Hundreds of Wade supporters gathered outside Leopold Sedar Senghor international airport waving Senegalese and Côte d’Ivoire flags.

Ouattara was inaugurated last Friday after winning presidential elections in November. Gbagbo, who held power for nearly 10 years, had refused to accept the results.

Nearly 3 000 people were killed in the dispute and around one million fled their homes to escape the violence, in which several African leaders tried to mediate fearing a return to all-out civil war.

Gbagbo was arrested on April 11, after being dramatically hauled from his home following a 15-day battle that drew in UN and French forces.

He is being held in a northern town facing various criminal charges.

National mourning
Côte d’Ivoire on Thursday kicked off three days of national mourning, and Outtara said from now on, May 12 would become “Martyrs’ Day” in tribute to those who had died.

“I assure you all that no crime will go unpunished,” said Ouattara, at a ceremony shortly before he left for Senegal.

Ivorian investigators have begun questioning Gbagbo, his wife Simone and more than 200 figures from the former regime as part of a preliminary investigation of crimes and abuses perpetrated since November.

Forces loyal to both the rivals have been blamed for mass killings.

Ouattara said a South African-style “Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, to be established soon, would enable the entire nation “to understand, establish responsibility and forgive.” — AFP