Gbagbo stays put after ECOWAS ends persuasion mission

Laurent Gbagbo

West African leaders have ended their mission to Ivory Coast, having failed to persuade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to stand down.

They had hoped Mr Gbagbo would agree to cede power to Allasane Ouattara, widely considered to be the true winner of November’s elections.

But Mr Gbagbo has refused, despite the leaders’ threat of military action.

The dispute has led to widespread unrest in Ivory Coast, with thousands fleeing and scores of people killed.

State-controlled TV has indicated that several million African nationals from other countries living in Ivory Coast might be at risk if threats from African countries of military intervention against Mr Gbagbo continue.

Mr Gbagbo has said that his government will cut diplomatic ties with any countries recognising Mr Ouattara.

The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde had travelled to the main city, Abidjan, as representatives of the Ecowas West African regional grouping.

The visit was being seen as a final chance to urge Mr Gbagbo to peacefully cede to Mr Ouattara – who is currently holed up in a hotel in the city protected by around 800 UN peacekeepers.

Few details of the separate talks with the two rivals have emerged, but President Boni Yayi of Benin told reporters: “Everything went well.”

Cape Verde President Pedro Pires said the mission should not be judged in terms of success or failure.

“What we know is that we have done valid work here, not more than that,” he said.

The West African presidents have left Ivory Coast and will now report back to Ecowas chairman Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who, they said, will negotiate a date for their return to Abidjan.

But instead of being persuaded to step down, Mr Gbagbo appears to be reinforcing his position.

One of his advisers told the BBC Mr Gbagbo was still the democratically elected president and that the Ecowas intervention was part of an “international plot” against him.

Thousands flee

Mr Gbagbo’s government has also said it will expel the diplomats of any country which stopped recognising the authority of envoys appointed by him.

“The government would like to make it known that, in the light of such decisions, it reserves the right to apply reciprocity in ending the missions of their ambassadors in Ivory Coast,” it said in a statement.

Earlier, a UN peacekeeper was wounded in the arm with a machete when his convoy was attacked by a crowd in a Gbagbo stronghold.

Mr Gbagbo has accused the UN – which has some 9,500 peacekeepers in the country – of interfering in Ivorian affairs and has ordered it to leave.

The UN has refused to do so. It says at least 173 people have died in violence and scores of others have been tortured since the 28 November elections.

Violence broke out after Mr Ouattara’s victory was overturned by the Constitutional Council, a body headed by an ally of Mr Gbagbo, citing claims that results were rigged in the north.

Almost 20,000 people – mostly women and children – have fled Ivory Coast for neighbouring Liberia, fearing further unrest.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says 15,120 people from villages in western Ivory Coast are known to have crossed the border and another 4,000 arrivals have been reported.

The BBC’s John James says the atmosphere in the city is tense, with everyone fearing a military intervention in the coming weeks.

Ivorians had hoped these elections would close the chapter on the country’s most difficult 10 years, but instead they have opened up a new period of instability, he adds.
Source: BBC

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