Gbagbo defiant as regional leaders head to Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, who faces mounting international pressure to accept defeat in a disputed presidential election, has insisted he will not step down even as regional leaders arrive to offer him an "honourable exit".
The standoff continues in Ivory Coast as regional leaders arrive for the second time to try and persuade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to step down – or face a military intervention.
But Gbagbo is determined to stand fast, despite the country's electoral commission and the United Nations having claimed he lost a Nov. 28 presidential run-off against long-time rival Alassane Ouattara by nine points.
The UN, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler France, have all recognised Ouattara as the country’s legitimate ruler.
For Gbagbo, who enjoys the support of the country's regular army, Western powers are leading an “international plot” to topple him.
“I will not stand down,” he said in his annual New Year’s address to the nation.
African leaders move against Gbagbo
In a rare move, the leaders of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde, representing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), arrive in Abidjan Monday on their second attempt to persuade Gbagbo to accept the outcome of the election and stand down.
The three leaders are joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the AU.
But FRANCE 24 reporter Pauline Simonet, in Abidjan, said many are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.
She said: “Gbagbo repeated over the weekend that there was absolutely no question of him stepping down and that he would not cede to pressure from the international community.
“He continues to insist that he won the election fair and square.”
The spectre of war
Meanwhile, Nigerian defence officials confirmed that military commanders from the 15-member ECOWAS bloc had begun planning a military response should the talks fail.
But a military intervention is the last thing the delegation heading to Abidjan today wants to see happen, said AFP’s Charles Onians, reporting for FRANCE 24.
“They are really hoping for a peaceful solution, that they might be able to offer Gbagbo an honourable exit,” he said. “Because the more entrenched he becomes, the less likely it is that he will leave peacefully.”
He added: “Any violence involving the UN or ECOWAS could easily spin out of control, considering Ivory Coast’s history of ethnic violence.”
The October 31 election was intended to help reunify the country, which has been divided since a 2002-2003 civil war into a rebel-controlled north and a Gbagbo-loyalist south.
Ivory Coast was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, but lingering tensions between the northern and southern halves have led to frequent flare-ups.
Opposition leader Ouattara’s main support base is in the north of the country, where residents say they are treated as foreigners in their own country.
Gbagbo has clung to power despite the fact that his mandate from an election in 2000 – from which Ouattara was excluded for being “foreign” – expired in 2005.