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ECOWAS Urges Ivorian President Gbagbo to Step Down

  • Peter Clottey

Ivory Coast police loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo face supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who has claimed to have won last month's presidential election, during a protest in a street in Abidjan on Dec 16, 2010

A top official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has called on Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo to step down to, in his words, stop the country from unnecessary bloodshed. His comment follows violent clashes Thursday that left several protesters dead.

Sonny Ugoh, communications director for the regional bloc ECOWAS, told VOA there seems to be an international consensus to put pressure on Mr. Gbagbo to step down and hand power to former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

“They (Ouattara supporters) are perfectly entitled to demonstrate as long as they are not violent and that they don’t destabilize the peace and security of the country. It’s all part of the expression of the will of the people and the government should have allowed them to express themselves.”

A senior U.S. State Department official said Thursday that Washington is prepared to impose sanctions on Mr. Gbagbo if he does not step down. France and the African Union have warned the embattled leader he has just days to leave office and the country.

Washington’s warning followed new clashes Thursday between pro-Gbagbo troops and former rebels backing Mr. Ouattara.

Fighting broke out in the main city of Abidjan and the central Ivorian city of Tiebissou, which is on the dividing line between the rebel-controlled north and the government-controlled south. Journalists and Ouattara supporters said Thursday at least 30 people were killed.

Mr. Ouattara had called on supporters to take to the streets Thursday with the goal of seizing control of government buildings controlled by those loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

Both men have declared themselves winners of last month's election and named rival governments in a vote aimed at restoring stability to the West African country following a 2002 civil war.

Ugoh said economic activities in the entire West African sub-region would be affected if the ongoing crisis spirals out of control.

“The sub-region cannot afford another crisis. There is an increasing international consensus around the fact that we will need to take collective action to get this message across that, ‘Look, somebody won his election in Cote d’Ivoire and the person should be allowed to take office.’”