Defiant Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo’s most notorious lieutenant on Wednesday urged the strongman’s diehard supporters to launch an unarmed assault on rival Alassane Ouattara’s UN-defended base.
West African diplomatic moves to save the fragile country from civil war took on new urgency when Gbagbo’s “Street General,” Charles Ble Goude, told youths to storm Ouattara’s heavily protected Abidjan hotel headquarters.
Ouattara’s new UN Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba, meanwhile, gave a stark warning as he received his credentials from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“We are on the brink of genocide, something should be done,” he said.
And the chief UN peacekeeper, Alain Le Roy, accused Gbagbo’s state media of “inciting hatred” against UN troops to turn the population against them and make their already dangerous mission impossible.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim to have won Ivory Coast’s Nov. 28 run-off election, but only the latter has been recognized as president by the world community, including the ECOWAS regional group, the UN and the EU.
Gbagbo’s forces dominate the south, home to the world’s largest cocoa-exporting industry and the commercial capital Abidjan.
His troops have cornered -Ouattara’s shadow government in his former campaign headquarters, a luxury golf resort on the outskirts of the city protected by a cordon of 800 UN peacekeepers and supplied by helicopter.
“From Jan. 1, I, Charles Ble Goude and the youth of Ivory Coast are going to liberate the Golf Hotel with our bare hands,” the leader of Gbagbo’s radical Young Patriots told a cheering crowd in Abidjan.
Political showman Ble Goude is best known for stoking bloody anti-French riots in 2004, a role that saw him placed under UN sanctions.
Gbagbo has ordered French and UN troops to leave Ivory Coast — a demand they have rejected, insisting they recognize only Ouattara’s rule — and the UN “Blue Helmets” face growing pressure around the city.
On Tuesday, a Bangladeshi soldier was wounded by a machete blow during a mob attack and a UN truck was burnt out by pro-Gbagbo demonstrators.
The UN estimates that at least 173 people have been killed in post-election violence, many dragged from their homes at night by pro-Gbagbo forces, while more than 19,000 refugees have fled the country.
Three West African heads of state flew to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to warn Gbagbo to hand over power to his internationally recognized rival or face military action, but left without a clear result, promising to return.
“We are still talking,” said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, chairman of the regional bloc ECOWAS and leader of its military powerhouse. “People are negotiating. We are discussing. That is why they are going back.”
The foreign minister of Cape Verde, one of the states that delivered the ultimatum, said the region had dropped the threat of invasion “for now,” but ECOWAS and Nigerian officials confirmed military planning had begun.
“The mediators’ mission confirmed that Laurent Gbagbo is no longer president; it is only his departure that is being negotiated,” Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi said. “The military option stays on the table.”