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December 26, 2010

Ivory Coast Strike Call Goes Unheeded

by Anne Look

Most workers in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan have ignored a call to strike to force incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo from power.

The president's political rival, Alassane Ouattara, had called for a national shut-down Monday to increase pressure on Gbagbo to accept election results and step down. Opposition leader Alphonse Djedje-Mady says they cannot allow Gbagbo to steal their victory.

However, shops were open in Abidjan and street markets were bustling as normal. Some workers said they could not afford to skip a day of work.

Ouattara remains holed up in an Abidjan hotel protected by U.N. peacekeepers and former rebel fighters.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim they won last month's presidential election. The international community is recognizing Ouattara as the winner, and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS is threatening to use force to get Gbagbo to leave.

Gbagbo told France's Le Figaro newspaper Sunday that any attempt to use force to remove him from power could start a war in West Africa.

He said he takes the ECOWAS threat seriously, but will not back down. Gbagbo contends France and the United States are plotting to drive him out of power.

Three West African presidents are traveling to Abidjan Tuesday to try to persuade Gbagbo to step down. The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde are expected to offer  Gbagbo political asylum in exchange for his resignation. If Gbagbo refuses, the West African regional bloc says it will take other measures, including the use of "legitimate force," to enforce U.N.-endorsed election results.

The United Nations says more than 170 people have been killed in post-election violence in Ivory Coast.

Gbabgo's camp denies allegations of human rights violations and use of excessive force against its opponents.

Interior Minister, Emile Guirieoulou, says the Ivorian government has noted that the United Nations agency in Geneva, like the U.N. operation in Ivory Coast, has taken a partisan position in the way they communicate information to member countries. He says they chose to give privilege to allegations and accusations made by one side without any verification or investigation, ignoring the figures given to them by the Ivorian government.

The November presidential election was meant to stabilize Ivory Coast, eight years after a civil war split the country into rebel- and government-controlled areas.

Following the poll, Ivory Coast's electoral commission said Ouattara won with 54 percent of the vote. But Ivory Coast's constitutional court, which is led by an ally of Gbagbo, annulled 10 percent of the ballots saying they were fraudulent and announced Gbagbo the winner of the election.