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

22nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

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

Gbagbo accused the international community of "making war" on his people, but insisted he did not want to see more bloodshed after at least 50 people died and offered to allow envoys from world powers to form a panel to study the post-election crisis.

The camp of Alassane Ouattara, who also claims the Ivory Coast presidency after disputed polls, was having none of this, saying Tuesday that Gbagbo was "playing tricks with the world."

Gbagbo, whose claimed re-election has been rejected by the international community, continued to "defy" the international community by proposing a dialogue, and must leave the office of president, Ouattara's spokeswoman Anne Ouloto said.

The United Nations has recognised 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 on December 4, 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 said on state television which crucially backs him.

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," Gbagbo 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.

That proposal "cannot be a real offer of dialogue," Ouattara spokeswoman Ouloto said, adding: "He insists that he is still the president of Ivory Coast, which is unacceptable. Laurent Gbagbo must quite simply recognise the verdict of the elections and leave."

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.

But Ouloto declared: "I don't think we'll be leaving the Golf Hotel tomorrow (Wednesday), as Laurent Gbagbo has 3,000 militiamen still in the neighbourhood.

"We have problems with safety," she added.

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 forces -- which he said are backed by Liberian mercenaries -- of killing 200 people.

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.

And Salvatore Sagues of watchdog Amnesty International said: "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."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon meanwhile made a plea for help for the UN's 10,000-strong peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast.

Ban told the UN General Assembly he was worried that a "disruption of life-support supplies for the mission and the Golf Hotel will put our peacekeepers in a critical situation in the coming days."

"I therefore strongly appeal to member states who are in a position to do so to prepare to support the mission."

Nigeria announced meanwhile it had evacuated the families of its diplomats in Abidjan to Accra, Ghana, "following the escalation of tension and the clashes between supporters" of both sides.

© 2010 AFP

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