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As Ivory Coast fighting escalates, window for talks narrows

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP

(Read caption) Ivory Coast's internationally-recognized President, Alassane Ouattara, right, addresses journalists following a meeting with African Union commission chairman Jean Ping, left, at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, March 5. Ping traveled to Abidjan on Saturday to invite Ouattara and defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to attend a March 10 meeting of AU leaders in Ethiopia.

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A panel of five African presidents, delegated by the African Union to run a fact-finding mission on the looming crisis in Ivory Coast, is due to arrive in the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, presumably to meet with the leaders of the opposing sides and to report their findings.

It is not certain whether either President-elect Alassane Ouattara or former President Laurent Gbagbo will attend the meeting. Mr. Ouattara has spent the last three months holed up in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, protected by a few hundred UN peacekeepers and surrounded by pro-Gbagbo forces.

Yet while the AU panel still officially continues to talk of looking “forward” toward a negotiated settlement, including a possible powersharing deal between Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo, fighting on the ground and massacres of civilians in urban areas may be rapidly closing the window for negotiation.

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Over the weekend, videos of the shooting of pro-Ouattara women protesters by pro-Gbagbo military trucks spread through social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and over the video-sharing site YouTube. Separate videos of the pro-Gbagbo youth militia “Young Patriots,” apparently burning alive suspected Ouattara supporters at a checkpoint, in full view of Ivorian police, also emerged, indicating that security conditions in Abidjan continue to deteriorate.

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