West African leaders were to hold an emergency summit yesterday to consider action against Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to quit as president of the Ivory Coast despite a crushing election defeat.
The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States, which includes Ivory Coast, has strongly condemned Gbagbo for trying to “usurp the popular will of the people” and is concerned that violence could break out.
Alassane Ouattara, the 68-year-old former prime minister, won more than 54 percent of the vote in last week’s election run-off — a result confirmed by the UN mission in the country.
However, Gbagbo alleged voter fraud, and the Constitutional Council — headed by one of his close allies— overturned the result.
Both candidates have since taken oaths of office and appointed prime ministers.
“There is big tension here,” said the author and journalist Venance Konan, speaking by telephone from Abidjan, the commercial capital. “Offices are closed and everybody is just ... waiting.”
The intention of the much--delayed poll was to end a decade of political instability and promote unity in a country effectively split into two halves. Gbagbo’s government controls the south, while the New Forces rebels, who were involved in the 2002 to 2003 conflict, exert the most influence in the north, Ouattara’s main constituency.
Ivory Coast’s geography — its neighbors include Liberia and Guinea, which are both emerging from turbulent times — meant a peaceful election outcome was doubly important. The UN, which has 9,000 peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast and partly funded the US$400 million election, said that even if Gbagbo’s claims of voter fraud in northern areas were true, they would not have changed the overall result.
Britain, the US, the EU and the African Union have also rejected Gbagbo’s claim to victory, as has France, the former colonial power.
The UN said it was pulling hundreds of staff out of the country due to the volatile situation, as former South African president Thabo Mbeki ended an urgent mediation mission without any major announcement after talks with the rivals.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “remains deeply concerned” and “has been in close contact with many world leaders,” spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The EU, meanwhile, threatened sanctions if the crisis is not resolved quickly.
US President Barack Obama urged Gbagbo to cede power to the “legitimate winner” of the polls, a senior US official said on Monday.
“To the White House, Ouattara is the legitimate winner of the election,” a senior White House official told Agence France-Presse in an exclusive interview.
In a letter to Gbagbo late last week, Obama put forward an offer to choose between two options that remain valid even though the strongman was sworn in on Saturday.
“You can abide by the results of this election and step aside and respect the results of the election,” the official elaborated, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“However, if you go forward down the path that you’re signaling that you’re going down, you will face greater international isolation, that you will be ignoring the will of your own people and that you will bear the consequences of what is an unjust action.”
Another senior White House official said the US was speaking “with a range of partners about the crisis ... about both immediate next steps going forward,” including France, key regional players and countries bordering Ivory Coast.