Gbagbo rivals take over Ivory Coast's Paris embassy
Supporters of Ivory Coast's internationally accepted president Alassane Ouattara on Monday peacefully took over their country's Paris embassy after loyalists of rival Laurent Gbagbo left.
"They have taken control of the embassy which was empty," a police source told AFP. "They are indeed Ouattara supporters."
The takeover came after Paris said it would recognise Ouattara's envoy over that of embattled strongman Gbagbo, who has clung on to power since a disputed November 28 presidential vote.
"We did not damage anything, we just removed Gbagbo's portrait from the wall," said Marcel Youpeh, who represents the pro-Ouattara group RHDP in France.
"We no longer recognise those who were named by Gbagbo, they must go. What's more France no longer recognises them either. Ivorians have come to say they've had enough."
An AFP journalist who visited the embassy in the morning said that it appeared to be business as usual ahead of the takeover in the early afternoon.
Amid rising pressure from the international community for Gbagbo to stand down, Ouattara's supporters called for a general strike in Ivory Coast, but the call appeared Monday to have had few followers.
"Following the call for a general strike until Laurent Gbagbo leaves, the RHDP youth movement decided embassy employees should also stop work," Bouake Karamoko, who also represents the RHDP in France, said inside the mission.
Around 20 French police blocked the entrance to the mission, in Paris' chic 16th arrondissement.
"The civil servants have left. There was no violence. We're awaiting the arrival of the new ambassador," Karamoko said, adding that the envoy named by Gbagbo, Pierre Kipre, had not been at the embassy on Monday.
"Around 30 people have entered the embassy peacefully," said pro-Ouattara embassy employee Meite Mahmud, stood outside the building.
"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," she said.
The embassy in France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler and a major trade partner, is one of the West African country's most important diplomatic missions.
The move to recognise the new envoy came a day after French authorities grounded a plane belonging to Gbagbo at an airport in France in response to a request by the rival Ivorian government set up by Ouattara.
Gbagbo, who has been in power for 10 years and rejected UN-certified results that said Ouattara beat him in the November 28 run-off vote, has denounced what he calls a French-US "plot" to oust him.
International leaders have warned the West African country could plunge back into civil war if Gbagbo clings on. Major powers have threatened diplomatic and financial sanctions against Gbagbo and his camp.
© 2010 AFP