Ivory Coast's Gbagbo toughs it out as strike falls flat
Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo saw off one challenge Monday as a general strike call fell flat but suffered a setback when his Paris embassy fell to supporters of rival Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara, who is recognised as president by the international community but is besieged in his headquarters hotel and protected by UN peacekeepers, had urged workers to down tools across the fragile the West African state.
But the sprawling commercial capital Abidjan, one of West Africa's biggest ports and the key to controlling the country, was as busy as ever, its streets snarled with traffic jams and its street markets packed with shoppers.
Ouattara's RHDP party had more success outside the country, however.
Party supporters occupied the Ivorian embassy in Paris, after the former colonial power said it would recognise Ouattara's choice for ambassador. The previous pro-Gbagbo ambassador had left the premises without resistance.
"This is proof that the Ivorian people are prepared to go as far as it takes to get the new government set up. The youths will stay until the new ambassador arrives," said Meite Mahmud, a pro-Ouattara embassy employee.
French police deployed in front of the building, but there was no violence, and pro-Gbagbo staff appear to have left shortly before protesters arrived.
Belgium also said it was recognising a Ouattara nominee as envoy.
In another blow to Gbagbo, the African Union named Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga as its pointman for efforts to resolve the crisis in Ivory Coast.
Odinga has been hawkish on the crisis, and was the first African leader to call for military action against Gbagbo.
The head of the Union's executive commission, Jean Ping, said he had asked Odinga to "lead the monitoring of the situation in Ivory Coast and bolster the efforts being undertaken" to end the turmoil.
Gbagbo's next challenge will be a meeting Tuesday with leaders from Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, who come carrying a message from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that he must step down.
There seems little chance of that, however, and Gbagbo has warned that ECOWAS' threat of military action could plunge the region into war and endanger the millions of West African migrants living in Ivory Coast.
"If there is internal disorder, a civil war, there will be dangers, because we will not let our law, our constitution, be trampled on. People should get that idea out of their heads," Gbagbo told the French daily Le Figaro.
"We're not afraid. We are the ones who are attacked. We have the law on our side. How far are those attacking us prepared to go?" he demanded.
West African leaders met last week and said if Gbagbo stays "the community will be left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people."
Gbagbo branded the threat part of a Western plot directed by France and the United States, whom he accused of undermining Ivorian electoral procedures in order to propel Ouattara into power.
France firmly denied that it was behind any sort of plot, but the foreign ministry confirmed will recognise Ouattara's ambassador to Paris, and said it had impounded Gbagbo's presidential jet at a French airport.
Earlier, Gbagbo's spokesman Ahouda Don Mello made what some saw as a tacit threat against West Africans living in Ivory Coast.
Asked about the ECOWAS threat, Mello warned: "All these countries have citizens in Ivory Coast and they know if they attack Ivory Coast from the exterior it would become an interior civil war."
Despite a decade of crisis, Ivory Coast remains a significant economy. It exports more than a third of the world's supply of cocoa, has a small but promising oil production sector and operates two major ports.
Millions of immigrants from other West African countries come looking for jobs, but in previous crises they have found themselves targeted for attack by mobs of Ivorian "patriot" youths.
The African Union has also called on Gbagbo to go, leaving him almost totally isolated, with only Angola publicly backing its ally. On Sunday, Washington kept up pressure, renewing its support for ECOWAS.
Gbagbo's forces remain firmly in charge in Abidjan, where they have been accused of carrying out scores of killings in pro-Ouattara areas.
Ouattara's shadow government is under siege in an Abidjan resort, protected by 800 UN peacekeepers, but unable to move beyond the grounds of the Golf Hotel or take charge of the levers of state power.
The United Nations' global head of peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, visited the hotel on Monday to support his troops and to hold talks with "President-elect Alassane Ouattara", according to a statement from the UNOCI mission.
Le Roy has also asked to meet Gbagbo, but has had no response, it said.
Some 14,000 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring Liberia amid the post-election violence the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Saturday.
© 2010 AFP