Gbagbo defies UN, insists 'I am president of Ivory Coast'

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo defied a global avalanche of criticism on Tuesday, insisting he is the true president of his country and vowing that UN and French troops will have to go.

Gbagbo accused the international community of "making war" on his people, but insisted he did not want to see more bloodshed and offered to allow envoys from world powers to form a panel to study the post-election crisis.

The offer seems likely to fall on deaf ears, as the United Nations has recognised Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara as victor of the disputed poll and accuses the incumbent's forces of carrying out death squad-style killings.

But, in his first televised address since he declared himself re-elected, the 65-year-old political veteran appeared determined to hang on.

"I won the election with 51.45 percent of the vote. I am president of Ivory Coast. I thank the Ivorians who renewed their faith in me," Gbagbo told state television viewers in the much-anticipated speech.

Both Gbagbo and long-time rival Ouattara claimed victory after the November 28 poll, triggering a violent political dispute.

"The troubles we see today in Ivory Coast are caused by the refusal of my opponent to submit himself to the laws, rules and procedures that apply in our country," he continued, blaming Ouattara and the international community.

"They make war on us not because we suppressed the democratic expression of Ivorians, but because they deny the Ivorian people's sovereign right to choose its own leaders, respect its institutions and live in a free country."

Nevertheless, Gbagbo said he did not want "the blood of a single Ivorian spilled" and suggested world powers send a panel to study the crisis, although seemingly not to call into question his purported victory.

"I am therefore ready -- respecting the constitution, Ivorian laws and the rules that we freely set for ourselves -- to welcome a committee of evaluation on the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast," he declared.

The panel would be led by an African Union envoy and include representatives of the West African bloc ECOWAS, West African monetary union, United Nations, Arab League, United States, European Union, Russia and China, he said.

There would also be "Ivorians of goodwill" on the panel, he added.

Gbagbo insisted Ouattara could leave the Hotel Golf, a waterfront resort on the outskirts of Abidjan where he has been besieged since declaring himself the president and is protected by a unit of 800 UN peacekeepers.

And he promised his supporters that the world would eventually agree to his demand that UN and French troops be pulled out of the country.

"We made this request through diplomatic channels and we expect to obtain satisfaction through these channels, for our sovereignty," Gbagbo said.

"I ask the young to stay calm. UNOCI and the French forces will leave Ivory Coast but we don't want needless deaths. We all have painful memories of November 2004," he said, referring to anti-French riots that left 50 dead.

Ouattara, meanwhile, urged the Ivorian people to rise up in a campaign of civil disobedience against Gbagbo's regime, accusing loyalist security forces of murdering scores of civilians in overnight death squad raids.

Ouattara's choice for prime minister, the leader of the New Forces rebel movement Guillaume Soro, accused Gbagbo's security forces -- which he said are backed by Liberian mercenaries -- of killing 200 people.

"Worse, women have been beaten, stripped, assaulted and raped," he alleged.

It was impossible to independently confirm Soro's figures, but the United Nations' top human rights official spoke at the weekend of at least 50 killings and said pro-Gbagbo forces had been involved.

"It is clear more and more people are being illegally detained by security forces or armed militiamen and we fear many of them may have been killed or have disappeared," said Salvatore Sagues of watchdog Amnesty International.

Amnesty cited witnesses in the Abidjan districts of Abobo, Adjame, Yopougon and Treichville who allege that pro-Gbagbo troops were escorting gunmen in plain clothes as they rounded up alleged supporters of Alassane Ouattara.

And the group quoted women who were arrested during a demonstration in the town of Grand Bassam east of Abidjan saying they had been seized, stripped and sexually molested by uniformed police officers.

"When will the international community realise that a murderous insanity has begun in Ivory Coast?" Soro demanded, announcing a campaign of disobedience.

"We ask the brave and proud Ivorian people, in campgrounds, villages and cities to organise, mobilise and protest by all means possible until Mr Laurent Gbagbo's departure from power," he said.

The West African bloc ECOWAS said it would hold an emergency summit on the crisis Friday, after suspending Ivory Coast and urging Gbagbo to yield power.

© 2010 AFP

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