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Ivory Coast President Gbagbo Orders UN Peacekeepers Out

  • Anne Look

UN armored personnel carriers (APC) park near the Gulf Hotel in Abidjan, 18 Dec 2010

UN armored personnel carriers (APC) park near the Gulf Hotel in Abidjan, 18 Dec 2010

The government of incumbent Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, has called for the immediate departure of U.N. and French peacekeepers. Mr. Gbagbo says he will not cede power to U.N.-endorsed election winner, Alassane Ouattara.

The situation in Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate following last month's disputed presidential election.

Incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, says he will not step down, despite violent street protests and mounting international pressure for him to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, who was recognized by the United Nations and much of the international community as the winner of the November 28 presidential run-off.

Mr. Gbagbo's government is now demanding that the 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers and 900 French soldiers currently on the ground in Ivory Coast leave immediately.

Reading a statement on state television Saturday, Gbagbo spokeswoman Jacqueline Oble says the government of Ivory Coast considers that the U.N. Mission in Ivory Coast has broadly failed in its mission by carrying out acts that do not conform with its mandate. Oble says the president of Ivory Coast demands the immediate depart of ONUCI and supporting French forces from Ivorian territory.

The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, which is currently protecting the Abidjan hotel serving as Mr. Ouattara's headquarters, said early Saturday that masked gunmen in military uniform had opened fire on the U.N. mission's base in Abidjan. No one at the U.N. mission was injured.

Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara have each set up rival governments and have the support of rival armed forces. The political showdown looks dangerously close to reigniting a 2002-2003 civil war.

On Thursday in Abidjan, rebel fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara exchanged fire with the army and protests against Mr. Gbagbo led to street clashes where at least 20 people were killed.

The European Union called on the Ivorian army to defect from Mr. Gbagbo to Mr. Ouattara, a move that sparked anger among Gbagbo supporters who accuse foreigners of interfering in Ivory Coast's affairs and threatening its sovereignty.

On Friday, United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Thursday's violence and warned that any attack on U.N. forces in Ivory Coast would be an attack on the international community.

"There was a clear winner. Power-sharing is not an option," said Moon. "The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public will cannot be allowed to stand. I call on him to step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further hindrance. The international community must send this message loud and clear. Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law."

Original electoral commission results said Mr. Ouattara won the November 28 run-off election with 54 percent of votes, but the constitutional court, which is led by a Gbagbo ally, annulled 10 percent of ballots as fraudulent and proclaimed Mr. Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of votes.

France and the United States have threatened sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo if he does not cede power. ECOWAS and the African Union have suspended Ivory Coast.

In Nairobi Friday, Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, urged the African Union and the international community to step in, arguing that force may be only way to remove Mr. Gbagbo.

"The world cannot expect Mr. Gbagbo to act in the interest of democracy or to make the decision that favors his people," said Odinga. "A decision must be made for him."

The U.N. High Commission on Refugees says fears of civil war in Ivory Coast have already prompted more than 4,000 Ivorians to flee to neighboring Liberia.