Ouattara invites Burkinabes back to Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara on Monday told citizens of Burkina Faso that they are welcome to return to his country, and vowed to put an end to the xenophobia and racial targeting that characterized his predecessor's regime.

"Every single Burkinabe should consider himself at home in Ivory Coast," said Ouattara at a press conference in the West African nation which borders Ivory Coast.

Ouattara won Ivory Coast's November election, but was only able to assume office this month because strongman Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power and had to be removed militarily. Ouattara's visit to neighboring Burkina Faso is his second official visit to a country in the region since taking office.

Gbagbo painted himself as a real Ivorian, and accused Ouattara of being a foreigner because his father's side of the family comes from Burkina, a fact that twice prevented Ouattara from running in past elections.

In the final months of the political showdown, Gbagbo's regime incited the population to attack foreigners, especially second- and third-generation immigrants from Burkina who had voted in large numbers for Ouattara. People with names that identified them as being Burkinabe were hunted down by mobs, doused in gasoline and set on fire.

The violence touched off a massive exodus with an estimated 1 million people fleeing Ivory Coast.

"We consider that this election has put an end to these difficulties," Ouattara said. "(It) needs to be the end of a certain number of misunderstandings and bad behavior that we are not proud of. Ivory Coast is a hospitable country and we need to make sure that Ivorians — as well as all the other people that live in Ivory Coast — live in peace," he said.

Ouattara is expected to be inaugurated Saturday in a lavish ceremony that will be attended by an estimated 20 heads of state, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy.