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Inhofe rejects request by U.S. official to persuade African leader to leave

Inhofe rejects suggestion and calls for new election in Ivory Coast
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: April 4, 2011

— A high-ranking State Department official asked Sen. Jim Inhofe to intervene in the aftermath of the disputed election in the Ivory Coast late last year, suggesting that Inhofe ask the country's president if he would leave the country and accept a job at Boston University, Inhofe said.

Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said in an interview that he never acted on the request and that he told Donald Yamamoto, a principal deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, that he wouldn't approach then-President Laurent Gbagbo about it because he wasn't assuming Gbagbo had lost the election. first reported last week that the State Department had approached Inhofe as it was searching for intermediaries to Gbagbo shortly after the November election. In an interview, Inhofe provided details of the State Department contact with him.

The State Department declined to respond to questions from The Oklahoman about Yamamoto's request to Inhofe.

The United States, the United Nations and the African Union have taken the position that Gbagbo was defeated in the November election by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo's refusal to concede has led to widespread fighting in the country, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.

The U.N. Security Council voted last week to impose sanctions on Gbagbo, and President Barack Obama urged him to step aside, saying that if he didn't, there would be “more violence, more innocent civilians being wounded and killed and more diplomatic and economic isolation.”

Fighters loyal to Ouattara on Sunday prepared for a battle to oust Gbagbo. Ouattara's camp reported that the vast majority of the military has defected to his side, leaving only a small contingent of fighters to defend Gbagbo.

Inhofe's African connections

Inhofe last week sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling her that a new election should be held in the country because he has found evidence of fraud.

“I am convinced that only through a new election will the people of Cote d'Ivoire end the increasing bloodshed, stop another civil war and ensure free and fair elections,” he wrote.

Inhofe is a frequent visitor to the Ivory Coast and other African nations. He said in his letter to Clinton that he has been to the Ivory Coast nine times, most recently in June. Senate travel records show Inhofe and three of his Senate aides visited the country in that period.

“I am probably the most knowledgeable person about Africa in the U.S. Senate,” Inhofe wrote to Clinton.

Inhofe sometimes has framed his interest in Africa in religious terms, once calling it “a Jesus thing,” and he told The Oklahoman two years ago that he first went to the continent at the urging of Doug Coe, the longtime organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

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