The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast’s defiant incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who, despite international demands, refuses to hand over power to the internationally recognized winner of the November presidential election.
Resolution 1975 calls on Mr. Gbagbo to respect the will of the Ivorian people and "immediately step aside," ceding power to Alassane Ouattara, whom the United Nations has certified as the winner of the election.
The resolution, approved Wednesday, urges the nearly 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians under "imminent threat of violence," including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.
In a bid to increase pressure on Mr. Gbagbo, the 15-member Council also imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on him, his wife and three close associates.
France and Nigeria co-sponsored the resolution in the Council. French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters the situation in Ivory Coast is "worsening by the hour." "In a sense this resolution is maybe the last message that we wanted to send to Gbagbo which is very simple: Gbagbo must go. It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war and maybe bloody violence in the streets of Abidjan," Araud said.
The U.N. says at least 462 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December. Up to 1 million more have been displaced, with thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Liberia and Ghana.
Reports from Ivory Coast Wednesday said forces opposed to Mr. Gbagbo have seized the country’s administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, although Mr. Gbagbo’s troops still control the main seat of power, the commercial city of Abidjan. Pro-Ouattara forces also have seized several other towns and claim to control nearly 75 percent of the country.
Mr. Gbagbo’s government is calling for a cease-fire, but Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu said it is only because he feared imminent action from the Security Council.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Mr. Gbagbo has a choice. "Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed, and more diplomatic and economic isolation. Or Mr. Gbagbo and his followers can finally reject violence and respect the will of the Ivorian people," she said.
She said that if the latter path is chosen, Ivorians can reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy that once was the admiration of all of Africa.