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Alassane Ouattara takes over as ECOWAS chair

ABUJA  (AFP) – Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara was named the new head of West Africa’s regional bloc, outgoing chief Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria announced Friday before the close of the body’s summit.

“For the chairman of the authority we have also unanimously agreed that the President of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara,” would take over, Jonathan said at a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja.

Ouattara’s election for the rotating position in the 15-nation bloc marks the return to the regional stage of Ivory Coast, recently shaken by deadly violence sparked by a disputed election.

One year ago, Ouattara was largely confined to an Abidjan hotel by his political foe, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to accept defeat after a November 2010 vote.

Gbagbo’s refusal to quit triggered conflict which left around 3,000 people dead before Ouattara took power. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court, accused of crimes against humanity.

Ouattara had been the favourite to take the key job, which carries a one year mandate, from regional powerhouse Nigeria.

“Countries of the region feel they have invested a lot for Ivory Coast and see it as the culmination of their efforts,” said a West African diplomat before the announcement.

He added the move was a way to “encourage reconciliation” in the world’s top cocoa producing country.

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