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Gbabgo declares victory, defies calls to stand down

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-04

Ivory Coast has been thrown into turmoil after both presidential candidates declared themselves winner of Sunday's run-off election, sparking calls from world leaders for incumbent Laurent Gbagbo (left) to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara.

Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council on Friday overruled earlier provisional poll results, declaring Ivoirian President Laurent Gbagbo the winner of a presidential run-off vote against opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

The announcement came a day after the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said provisional results showed Ouattara the winner, with 54% of Sunday’s vote.

But the Constitutional Council immediately rebuffed the announcement, claiming that the IEC results were invalid as they had been delivered a day late.

It took the Constitutional Council just 24 hours to deliver the opposite decision, handing incumbent Gbagbo a five-year mandate with what they say was a 51% win.

“What we have here is a classic case of two institutions that are clashing with each other,” said FRANCE 24’s International Affairs editor Douglas Herbert. “What we’ve just heard now, the Constitutional Council declaring Laurent Gbagbo the winner, was all but a foregone conclusion.”

In a declaration read out to reporters on Friday, the Constitutional Council chief Paul Yao-N'Dre said the council had annulled results in seven regions in the north of the country.

Yao-N'Dre is widely believed to be an ally of Gbagbo, whose support base rests in the country’s southwest region. The northern half of the country is a Ouattara stronghold.

UN, EU and USA recognise Ouattara as winner

Responding to the Constitutional Council’s announcement, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, US President Barack Obama and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy all recognised Ouattara’s victory in statements made on Friday.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also rejected Gbagbo’s win and gave Ouattara his backing in a statement from New York, although Russia blocked the Security Council - which is reponsible for certifying the final results - from doing likewise.


Alassane Ouattara - Portrait

Later on Friday evening, Ouattara declared himself the country's "elected president", in open defiance of the Constitutional Council.

"I am the elected president of the Republic of Ivory Coast," he told a news conference. "I ask all the institutions, notably the armed forces, the gendarmerie and the police, to uphold their mission to protect people and property on all national territory.”

Tension has been mounting in the once-wealthy West African country, culminating in the country’s borders being sealed Thursday evening and the suspension of several international news organisations.

Free and fair elections?

While international observers had praised the conduct of Sunday’s election in all regions, saying that it had been free and fair, Gbagbo’s supporters had complained of fraud in the Ouattara stronghold in the north.

In the run-up to the IEC’s announcement, supporters of Gbagbo repeatedly stopped the commission from declaring the results, claiming incidents of voting fraud in four of the country’s 19 regions.

Before the deadline expired Wednesday, a Gbagbo loyalist physically ripped the vote count results from the hands of an electoral commission official who was attempting to announce them.

Vincent Hugeux, a journalist specialising on Ivory Coast for France’s L’Express weekly, told FRANCE 24 on Thursday that the scene was set for an “institutional coup d’état” by Gbagbo.

“Laurent Gbagbo is profoundly attached to the idea that he is the only rightful candidate to be president of Ivory Coast,” he told FRANCE 24.

A bid to restore stability

The much-awaited presidential election was expected to restore stability to Ivory Coast, which was embroiled in a civil war in 2002 and 2003 that split the country in two, leaving the north in the hands of rebels.

The war and the ensuing instability put the economic brakes on the once-prosperous West African nation. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa exporter.

Gbagbo came to power in a 2000 election from which Ouattara was excluded. The Ivoirian president’s five-year mandate expired in 2005, but he has remained in office, maintaining that elections were impossible because of the country’s volatile political situation.

The conflict also divided the country between Gbagbo's government-controlled south-western region and the north held by former New Forces rebels, with UN and French peacekeepers patrolling the buffer zone between them.

"A long and deep-seated rivalry divides Gbagbo and Ouattara,” Hugeux told FRANCE 24 in an interview before Sunday’s run-off vote.

"Gbagbo has never forgiven Ouattara for, if not approving, outright ordering his imprisonment when [Ouattara] was prime minister. Gbagbo also considers Ouattara the instigator and financial backer of the 2002 rebellion.

“For his part, Ouattara views the election as vindication for the injustice he suffered when he was evicted from the political landscape,” Hugeux added.

Date created : 2010-12-04

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