France says defending ICoast people's will against Gbagbo

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

France on Tuesday defended its backing of Laurent Gbagbo's rival for the presidency of Ivory Coast in its deadly political crisis, saying it was supporting the Ivorian people's sovereign will.

"It is the sovereign Ivorian people themselves who have chosen to get rid of Gbagbo," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said on RTL radio.

"He must hear first of all not the message of Paris, Washington and the whole world; he must hear the message of the Ivorians."

Gbagbo has accused foreign countries of interfering in Ivory Coast's affairs and his camp has reacted angrily to pressure from world powers including former colonial ruler France for him to step aside for his rival Alassane Ouattara.

Much of the international community recognises Ouattara as president of the west African country after UN-certified results from last month's election indicated he won. Gbagbo's allies quashed the results, alleging irregularities.

Baroin insisted Tuesday that France was following the lead of other international powers in pressuring Gbagbo.

"France and its president have been extremely respectful of developments, of international decisions" by world powers who have widely condemned Gbagbo, he said.

The European Union Monday announced a first set of sanctions, slapping visa bans on Gbagbo and 18 of his allies, including his wife.

The US State Department said on Tuesday it had banned dozens of Gbagbo's supporters from travelling to the United States, and the UN Security Council had warned of sanctions if Gbagbo does not quit.

Amid UN accusations of killings and other abuses, France has urged Gbagbo to restrain his security forces, and warned that the French peacekeeping contingent will protect its estimated 15,000 expatriates in Ivory Coast.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said that French forces were on standby to evacuate citizens if the situation deteriorates.

"So far there have been no attacks or threats against French or European citizens. However, the situation remains extremely fragile, we are particularly vigilant," Alliot-Marie told parliament.

"We are preparing for any eventuality and all means possibly necessary are ready for an intervention," to evacuate.

"We want this to be over quickly, to end peacefully in the interest of Ivorians and the Ivory Coast," she said.

© 2010 AFP

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