Ivory Coast yesterday faced the threat of open conflict after a New Year’s midnight deadline set by Alassane Ouattara for his rival Laurent Gbagbo to quit passed unheeded.
Gbagbo vowed not to yield to growing pressure to cede power to Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of a Nov. 28 presidential election, with both Britain and the US saying it was time to go.
The midnight deadline issued by Ouattara’s camp came as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said reports had been received of “at least two mass graves” amid fears of crimes against humanity.
If Gbagbo quit before the start of the New Year, he would “have no worries,” Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said.
But Gbagbo said in an address to the nation on Friday that he would not cede power to Ouattara.
He said pressure from Ouattara’s camp and world leaders for him to quit amounted to “an attempted coup d’etat carried out under the banner of the international community.”
The UN has said that the volatile West African nation faces a real risk of return to civil war, but Soro told reporters that the country is already at this point — “indeed in a civil war situation.”
“This is what’s at stake: Either we assist in the installation of democracy in Ivory Coast or we stand by indifferent and allow democracy to be assassinated,” Soro said at a news conference, adding that more than 200 people already have been killed and 1,000 others have been wounded by gunfire.
West African regional military chiefs have set in motion plans to oust the strongman if negotiations by regional mediators fail said Colonel Mohammed Yerimah, a Nigerian defense spokesman, in Lagos.
The chiefs of defense staff from West African regional organization Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met this week in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, “to put machinery in motion that if all political persuasions fail ... ECOWAS will forcefully take over power from Laurent Gbagbo and hand over to Alassane Ouattara,” Yerimah said.
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