Gbagbo supporters say they are ‘ready to die’

Laurent Gbagbo

Supporters of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo have vowed to fight to the death to keep him as president as pressure grows for him to quit, and his rival’s camp urged the U.N. to do more to protect civilians. Skip related content

Rival Alassane Ouattara has won almost unanimous international backing after his eight-point lead in a November 28 presidential poll was overturned on grounds of alleged fraud by the Constitutional Council, led by a staunch Gbagbo ally.

Around 5,000 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring countries as concerns grow that an election designed to draw a line under a 2002-2003 civil war will instead destabilise the world’s top cocoa grower and a fragile region.

Both the European Union and the United States have warned Gbagbo that he and his entourage could face sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes within days if he does not step down, but his camp has dismissed the threats as meddling.

“We have a sole battle: to ensure our dignity, our country’s sovereignty is respected. It is up to us to choose our president,” Young Patriots’ leader Charles Ble Goude told a rally of the fervently pro-Gbagbo youth movement late on Sunday.

“This battle that we began in 2002 — we are ready to die for it,” said Ble Goude, who was named this month as Gbagbo’s youth minister and who has been on a U.N. sanctions list since 2006 for making public statements advocating violence.

Gbagbo’s government called on U.N. and French troops to quit the country on Saturday, accusing them of interference in the country’s internal affairs, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and France have defied the call and said they will stay.

“The U.N. don’t recognise his authority,” Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Ouattara’s rival government, told Reuters by telephone. “There is one president, Ouattara, and he sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon asking him to maintain forces here until the peace process is over.”


Referring to clashes between the Young Patriots and the French military operation, known as Licorne, in 2004 that led to evacuations of thousands of expatriates, Goude told his supporters:

“Licorne and us, we know each other. They’ve got our calling card. Its UNOCI that doesn’t have it yet,” he said of the 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Tensions in Ivory Coast have pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks on market fears of a disruption to supplies. So far, cocoa beans have been getting through to port but there have been delays in registering them for export.

Gbagbo retains control of the army and the key institutions including the state broadcaster.

Talks are scheduled in the U.N. Security Council on Monday on a new mandate for the U.N. force, whose current role allowing it to protect civilians under “imminent threat” of violence runs out on December 31.

“I am in no doubt that it will be renewed,” said Achi. “The question is … will they change it to an intervention mandate to support the president — that’s what we are asking for.”

He added that he hoped they would get a mandate to pursue offensive operations against Ivorian troops committing abuses, as they can against militia groups in Congo.

An attempt by Ouattara supporters last week to seize the state TV building ended in bloodshed as pro-Gbagbo forces used live rounds to put down the protest.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cited on Sunday evidence of “massive” violations in Ivory Coast, saying over 50 people had been killed in the previous three days and raising concern over reports of deaths in detention.

“When people are victims of extrajudicial killings there must be an investigation, and there must be accountability,” Pillay said in a statement.

Gbagbo’s government has denied using excessive force to put down last week’s protests and says some protesters were armed.
Source: Reuters

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