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Concern Mounts in France Over Ivory Coast Crisis

  • Lisa Bryant

A man waves his cap during a demonstration in front of the Ivorian Embassy in Paris, 04 Dec 2010

A man waves his cap during a demonstration in front of the Ivorian Embassy in Paris, 04 Dec 2010

The ongoing political crisis in the West African country of Ivory Coast has worried and divided the sizeable Ivorian community living in other countries. Ivory Coast's election commission and the United Nations recognized the victory of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in the recent presidential election. However Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council has the final word on the results and the Council invalidated results from seven voting regions giving incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo the victory.

Friday night in the Chateau Rouge neighborhood of northern Paris – a bustling area full of African shops and bars. At one beauty salon, Ivorian Madeleine Fall, who immigrated to France 15 years ago, is getting a manicure. But she takes a few minutes to air her views about her country's political crisis.

As far as Fall is concerned, Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo is the winner of the country's recent presidential election – even though the country's election commission pronounced his rival Alassane Ouattara the victor. Fall believes God is behind Gbagbo.

But just a few blocks away, Ivorian shop owner Yolande Biot has a very different reaction.

Biot says Mr. Gbagbo should step down. She believes Mr. Ouattara is the undisputed winner.

The divisions among the Ivorian expatriate community here are mirrored in Ivory Coast, where both Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara have pronounced themselves president.

The impasse is being viewed with concern in France, and not just because of the large Ivorian community here.

France has strong commercial ties with the West African country and about 600 French companies do business there. France also has a large peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast since civil war broke out there in 2002.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has thrown his weight behind Mr. Ouattara, saying voting results show he has won a clear victory.

That has further strained relations between the French government and Mr. Gbagbo, which have been rocky for years. The Ivorian leader has long accused France of meddling in his country's internal affairs.

Accusations of foreign meddling are echoed in the Chateau Rouge neighborhood.

Resident Joseph Bikes is from the West African country of Cameroon. But as an African, he believes the Ivorian elections are an internal matter. The international community and the United Nations should not interfere.

But much of the international community has already weighed in, backing Mr. Ouattara. And European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has warned the bloc might consider sanctions against Ivory Coast if the crisis is not resolved soon.