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 CNS Story:

IVORYCOAST-IMPASSE Feb-24-2011 (390 words) xxxi

African church leaders offer to help end impasse in Ivory Coast

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- African church leaders met with the two men claiming the presidency in the Ivory Coast and urged a strong role for religious leaders in mediating the impasse over the country's disputed presidential election.

Noting "the call made by the international community that the Ivorian crisis is an African issue and that it is the responsibility of African leaders to solve the political crisis" there, an umbrella body of African religious leaders, including the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, known as SECAM, the All African Conference of Churches and the Africa Council of Religious Leaders, sent a delegation to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Feb. 17-19, a SECAM statement said.

Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar, Senegal, led the delegation, which met with outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, who was declared the winner of the November elections.

Gbagbo's refusal to leave office has led the international community to impose economic and travel sanctions against his government.

The religious delegation urged that a "platform be created by African political and religious leaders for sincere and frank dialogue" between Ouattara and Gbagbo in order "to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the political crisis," the statement said.

The two men attempting to secure the presidency should keep in mind U.S. President Barack Obama's message during a 2009 visit to Ghana that "Africans must take responsibility for their future," it said.

The delegation recommended that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Ivory Coast "and other religious bodies should continue to play their prophetic role in the mediation process." They urged that Ivorians should not "allow themselves to be manipulated by the political differences that would undermine social cohesion."

The religious leaders also appealed to "all believers to redouble their efforts in prayers and never let partisan politics affect their faith."

Members of the delegation included Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, who co-chairs the African Council of Religious Leaders, and Sheik Rahman Ahmad Abdur, who represented the Nigerian Sultan of Sokoto, a spiritual leader in the Muslim community.

About 300 people have been killed in violence since the election, which was conducted in an effort to bring stability to the country following the 2002-03 civil war and subsequent years of economic stagnation. However, the polling deepened divisions and raised the specter of renewed conflict.


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