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Cornered in Abidjan as fears grow

Andrew Harding | 13:53 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011

These are critical hours for Ivory Coast.

Laurent Gbago - corned in a presidential bunker, his general defecting - has been trying to negotiate his way out of trouble.

His surrender seemed imminent. "I want to live," he told French television.

But over the last few hours, we've heard the boom of heavy artillery in the city, and confirmation that Mr Gbagbo's residence is being stormed.

A negotiated ending might have helped ease tensions in this bitterly divided country. After all, Mr Gbagbo won 46% of the vote in the recent election.

But he seems to have over played a weak hand, and so a more forceful denouement beacons, and with it the real risk of greater instability.

What will his militias do if Mr Gbagbo is killed, or dragged out and humiliated?

Civilians, still trapped in Abidjan, say there has been sporadic gunfire across the city, with pro-Gbagbo militias still on the streets, and Ouattara force's still "mopping up" opposition at several military installations.

Yesterday I drove a few miles through the city suburbs. Small groups of civilians were half trotting along the side of the road arms raised as if in surrender. They were, they said, risking the bullets and the looters to search for water and food.

The stench of dead bodies, littering the sides of the road, is a powerful reminder of the price this city has paid for the "restoration of democracy".

What new horrors will we uncover if and when the city is finally pacified?

A sign of the continuing insecurity - we've just been stopped at a roadblock that we sailed through yesterday - Ouattara's soldiers saying a suburb was no longer safe.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is indeed painful seing Ivory Coast, a one time stable and prosperous nation plunged into chaos, poverty, violence and crime due to the inability of politicians to handover power when the electorate withdraw their mandate. Gbagbo could have respected the verdict of Ivorian voters and left office having lost the last Presidential election in that west african country.

    Gbagbo was reported to have said taht he loved life. But did he know how many orphans and widows he had created by not respecting electoral verdict? After 11 years in power, Laurent Gbagbo could have had a fill enough of power and retreat from the scene when it was still gracious for him. As it is now, his intransigence could plung the country into deeper crisis

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't understand.
    Mr Gbagbo said that he won the election; the Supreme Court of The Ivory Coast, tossed out several Ouattara votes. The Supreme Court agreed that Mr. Gbagbo won the election.
    How it came that Mr. Quattara, a long-term associate of the IMF, came to be declared the leader smells as much to me as the stench of dead bodies, littering the sides of the road - a powerful reminder of the price this city has paid not the "restoration of democracy", but the sidestepping of democracy in order to set in place a pro-western government. Mr. Quattara is the western-trained boy, the IMF boy, and he did not win this election.
    I don't understand.
    How come the UN has stepped in on what appears to be the wrong side?
    What was the purpose of this democratic vote - all these deaths?
    Why couldn't the votes simply be validated and recounted...unless Quattara did NOT win!

  • Comment number 3.

    Perhaps this is too early to think about these things, but I wonder how the country can heal, no matter who rules after the resolution of this acute crisis. As the two previous comments --and any conversation with Ivorians the world over-- makes clear, the country appears bitterly divided, with very few people willing to see both sides of the issue, or express understanding for the other side even if they disagree.

    It is concerning that it is not just a small minority of Gbagbo supporters, but a large segment of the population (even if short of a majority) that uses extremist code words. Many of these words were initiated in the last decade as part of a xenophobic media and mind campaign reminiscent of the one in Rwanda in the years preceding the genocide. How does one reverse such pernicious work? How can one govern, and live together as a country, when so many people have absorbed radioactive doses of hate speech?

    Rwanda is an interesting example of how to deal with the problem of a traumatized population which had absorbed a generation of propaganda and hate speech. But it is too soon to see if the approach there --smothering the "bad" thoughts, and not allowing them to be expressed publicly-- will work in the long term.

    In any case we all wish the people of Cote d'Ivoire peace and healing, and a return to the great things they have shown they are capable of.

  • Comment number 4.


    Mr Gbagbo said that he won the election; the Supreme Court of The Ivory Coast, tossed out several Ouattara votes. The Supreme Court agreed that Mr. Gbagbo won the election.

    Article 64 of the Electoral Code of Cote d'Ivoire states that in the event that the Constitutional Council (or Supreme Court if you prefer) finds significant fraud has occurred such that it would affect the outcome of the election, the Constitutional Council has to call new elections which are to be organised within 45 days.

    Isn't it likely that Gbagbo and his friends at the Constitutional Council knew full well that they had lost the election fair and square and that a new election would merely confirm the result? And that they then instead of calling new elections as the law demands annulled nearly 600,000 votes in Ouattara's strongholds to swing the result for Gbagbo?

  • Comment number 5.

    There seems to be a total disregard for the immense human suffering on both sides. As far as the democratic, "legitimate" side is concerned, the fatherly mr. Ouattara decided several months ago, that the Ivorians should be punished for not supporting the strikes called by him, so he stopped the payment of the salaries of the public employees and pensionists. He was soonbacked by all the French banks who closed all their branches, so from the middle of February I have not been able to send money to my family even by Western Union.
    Then the importation of medicine stopped.
    And now the UN and France are conducting air-strikes against the city of Abidjan in total contempt of the civilian casualties.
    Most despicable of all, mr. Ouattara has closed the borders of the country, so his people cannot flee his just wrath. WHY in heavens name does the UN accept it? What has become of the solemn promises to "protect" civilians? OPEN THE BORDERS!

    You are accomplices to a crime of mass murder, that may soon reach a toll similar to Rwanda. I detest and despise you all.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just like in Libya, a single mans ego causes the death of thousands and the wrecking of their country.

  • Comment number 7.

    The UN must be blamed for all this mess....(1) there should not be an election before the rebels are disarmed, (2) the UN must respect the laws of Ivory Coast, if the UN has "problem" with the members of the Constitutional Council, they should settle it before the elections are held.

  • Comment number 8.

    Perhaps the only long-term solution is calling for a referendum within 6 months, let the people decide if they wish to divide the country (into Muslim north and Christian south). I believe this will prevent future "instability".

  • Comment number 9.

    Ivory coast's constitutional council betrayed all ivorians for failing to discharge it duty. And the people involved didn't consider what they were about to do, the consequence it would be on thier nation. No matter how the case may be, a patriot can't trade his/her country for anything material. It is not too late to make peace and the best way forward in this conflict, both men(Gbagbo and Oatara)should step down.

  • Comment number 10.

    Mr Gbagbo appears to me as a man with a larger than life ego, a man so consumed with power he sees nothing else, a vain individual eager to live out his dream as a great historical figure or something that i can not think of right now. Violence MUST never be condorned, but democracy needs to be upheld everywhere.
    Gbagbo has taken his country on a perilous journey and put the lives of his countrymen in harms way without a care. and when the sound of gunfire came close to home; he twice tried to negotiate a way out. It is as well the negotiations failed. God is not asleep; HE is wide awake.

  • Comment number 11.

    Regardless of what he may have done in political office dragging him out and beating him to death must be condemned by the western world.
    If the opposition wants to retain its moral superiority it should also denounce any plans to kill Gbagbo, that would be the actions of a developed democratic leadership in my opinion.

  • Comment number 12.

    I fully agree with Will. You cannot set aside the law of a sovereign country. If the international community does not like the Constitutional Council, they must by due process prove them wrong. They must demonstrate to the world public by publsihing all data and statements that they have a case.

    There has been a totally arrogant lack of information. The world media carry a heavy responsibility, too. Why is it that the BBC and CNN and others cannot grace us with the mere numbers? With accounts and arguments of the official spokesmen of both camps? By the views of international lawyers?

    All we have had is a load of tabloid BS with no substance. It has been left to bloggers to argue the cases of both camps. Is this democracy? Had the world been properly informed, there migh not have been any need of violence. But maybe the outcome of such a "public trial" of evidence would have produced a different outcome from that desired by the capital interests BEHIND the media.


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