International pressure was mounting on Friday on Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo after his forces launched a deadly crackdown on supporters of a rival claimant on the presidency.
The US, the EU and Ivory Coast’s West African allies demanded that Gbagbo hand over power to his adversary Alassane Ouattara after a day of bloodshed on the streets of Abidjan left between 11 and 30 people dead.
Ouattara’s supporters had vowed to return to the streets to renew a bid to seize control of state TV but, despite reports of sporadic gunfire, the sprawling seaport was eerily quiet following Thursday’s violence.
“People are scared to come out because there were victims yesterday. The fear is still there,” said Moussa Camara, a militant from Ouattara’s RHDP, guarding his party’s downtown headquarters.
In the Abidjan suburb of Abobo, crowds gathered shortly after dawn around the bodies of two young men, their skulls shattered by bullets.
One lay barefoot in his underpants, his head lolling on a congealed trail of blood, the other was spread-eagled by the roadside, his slip-on shoes cast off.
It was not clear who had killed them, but on Thursday the district had seen clashes between armed police loyal to Gbagbo and supporters of Ouattara.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Ouattara must be allowed to take office, adding that “any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law.”
At a Brussels meeting of the EU, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Gbagbo must go “before the end of the week” to avoid being added to a list of Ivorians being targeted by EU visa bans and asset seizures.
“Gbagbo is clinging to power, his supporters are firing, there were people killed in the streets of Abidjan,” Sarkozy said. “There is no other possibility than for Gbagbo to leave as soon as possible an office he usurped.”
Warning “time is running out,” Washington said it was also prepared to impose targeted sanctions against Gbagbo if he tries to hold out.
Gbagbo’s loyal state media and some of his lieutenants remain defiant, making wild claims that France and UN peacekeepers are arming pro-Ouattara northern rebel fighters in preparation for a “genocide,” and were no longer neutral.
“The Defense and Security Forces of the Ivory Coast call on the national and international community to bear witness to the fact that ONUCI no longer plays the role of a neutral force,” military spokesman Colonel Babri Gohourou said.
However, the veteran strongman has himself been more discreet, and on Friday he met African Union envoy Jean Ping, who arrived in Abidjan with a letter from his fellow African leaders in the ECOWAS regional group.
“The letter reiterates ... that the president should immediately relinquish power to president-elect Ouattara and avert the imminent return to unnecessary conflict and bloodshed,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim to have won last month’s disputed election, and both have declared themselves president.
On Thursday, Ouattara made his move, calling on his supporters to march on the seat of RTI state TV, the only local channel allowed to broadcast and a reliable propaganda tool of the incumbent Gbagbo regime.
They were met with gunfire and tear gas, as street battles erupted across the city. Amnesty International counted nine unarmed protesters shot dead by security forces, while the government said 10 of its own men were killed.