Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Laurent Gbagbo thumbs nose at international condemnation in Ivory Coast

The US and EU has issued a travel ban on Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to concede defeat in the 28 November run-off election. The US, EU, UN, and the AU have all recognized Gbagbo's challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner of that election. Violence broke out last week when Ouattara’s supporters fought with Gbagbo’s security forces. The possibility is increasing of a return to the civil war fought between north and south of the country in the early half of the decade. (Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty)

But Gbagbo shows no sign of bowing to international pressure. Instead his troops have cut off food, water and medical help to Ouattara who has been holed up in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan since the election guarded by UN peacekeepers. UN observers in Ivory Coast say Gbagbo has ordered at least 50 murders and abducted many more in the last week. Gbagbo used state-controlled media to portray the calls for his departure as a foreign plot to control the country’s rich natural resources. He has also started to harass UN operatives after the Security Council extended the mandate of 8,650 peacekeepers until the end of June.

This year’s election was intended as a way of drawing a line under eight years of division between the north and south of the country which remains the world’s leading producer of cocoa. The civil war began in 2000 after a military coup which ousted President Henri Konan Bedie. Ouattara, a former Prime Minister and a Muslim, had intended to stand for the election due that year. But coup leader General Guei established criteria that all candidates had to have two Ivorian parents. Courts barred Ouattara on the grounds his mother was from Burkina Faso. Gbabgo eventually won the election but Ouattara has been a thorn in his side ever since.

Attempts to run another election since 2005 were hampered by continuing violence in the north of the country. In the first round in October 2010 Gbagbo came first with 38 percent and Ouattara was second with 32 percent. With neither reaching 50 percent, a run-off was required. Third placed Bedie was eliminated on 25 percent amid the inevitable claim the vote was rigged. In the run-off election at the end of November, provisional results showed Gbagbo had lost by nearly 10 percent.

Before the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Council, could validate any results, Electoral Commission boss Youssouf Bakayok appeared on France24 news channel without the approval of the other 30 members of the Commission, and announced a victory for Ouattara. But when the full Constitutional Council met, they decided to cancel thousands of votes from the north which was Ouattara's stronghold.

The Council declared Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of the vote. The news was greeted with international condemnation. Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs said Outtara was the rightly and justly elected President and said the US ready to impose targeted sanctions individually and with other countries against Gbagbo who “continues to cling to power illegitimately.” “That election was clear. Its result was clear. And it’s time for him to go,” Gibbs said.

France joined the chorus of condemnation. The former colonial power still has many interests in the country and has a 950-strong security force posted there separate to the UN peacekeepers. French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said their troops would defend themselves should they come under attack. President Sarkozy said the results show a clear and incontestable victory for Alassane Ouattara. A president has just been elected in the Ivory Coast. That president is Ouattara.” The message has yet to get through to Laurent Gbagbo.

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