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Gbagbo's 'Street General' opts for talks to solve crisis

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-05

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Laurent Gbagbo’s controversial Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé said dialogue was the only solution to the Ivorian crisis. But rival president Alassane Ouattara has rejected dialogue offers.

Attempts to negotiate a solution to Ivory Coast’s power struggle between rival presidents appeared to hit a stalemate Tuesday, with a firebrand minister of Laurent Gbagbo telling FRANCE 24 that discussions were continuing even as rival president Alassane Ouattara maintained that the time for talk was over and that Gbagbo must go.

A delegation of African leaders left the Ivory Coast late Monday after failing to convince Gbagbo to cede power to Ouattara, who has been internationally recognised as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential poll.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with the envoys late Monday, Ouattara said the time for dialogue was “over” and that Gbagbo must leave office.

But in an interview with FRANCE 24 Tuesday, Charles Blé Goudé, Gbagbo’s controversial youth minister, said discussions were continuing.

"We may as well discuss things from now on instead of putting lives in danger," Blé Goudé told FRANCE 24.

Dismissing Ouattar’s call for the use of force to oust Gbagbo, Blé Goudé maintained that “Ouattara has never called for talks. He always said that we should use military force…dialogue is not his forte…he has not changed at all.”

The notorious leader of the Young Patriots, a hardline group of primarily young Gbagbo supporters, Blé Goudé is also known as Gbagbo’s “Street General”.

A former student leader, Blé Goudé is on a list enforcing a UN asset freeze and travel sanctions for his role in inciting violence and terrorising the foreign population in Ivory Coast in 2004-2005.

Last week, Blé Goudé called on his supporters to storm the Golf Hotel, a lagoon-side resort in the main Ivoirian city of Abidjan, where Ouattara has been based, protected by UN troops.

But he later retracted the assault call and has since tempered his threats.

In his interview with FRANCE 24 Tuesday, Blé Goudé made no apologies for his call for an “unarmed” assault on the Golf Hotel.

“It’s not possible that Alassane Ouattara and his team…could be in Abidjan and concocting plans with UN support, to attack Ivorians. This is unacceptable. That's why I said that if the UN does not, we should go unarmed to tell them to leave the Golf Hotel,” he said.

Gbagbo pledges to lift Golf Hotel blockade

In a joint statement released by the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS, a regional West African grouping, on Tuesday, African envoys said Gbagbo had pledged to immediately lift the blockade around the Golf Hotel.

Alassane Ouattara - Portrait

While the hotel has been protected by UN troops since last year’s elections, they are in turn encircled by the Ivorian Army, which has remained loyal to Gbagbo.

The joint AU-ECOWAS statement said Gbagbo had “agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions”. But no details were provided.

The statement added that Ouattara had "indicated his willingness to ensure a dignified exit" for Gbagbo, provided he accepted that he had lost the Nov. 28 polls.

But speaking to FRANCE 24 Tuesday, Blé Goudé insisted that Gbagbo had legitimately won the elections and accused the international community of meddling in Ivorian affairs.

“The people of Ivory Cost elect their president. The international community did not recognise Nicolas Sarkozy as the French president. It was the people of France who elected him…It was not for the UN to recognise him. So I think we should respect the laws of Africa and African countries.”

An exit strategy and the threat – and dread – of force

Over the past few days, African negotiators have been discussing an exit strategy for Gbagbo, including exile in another country. A senior US State Department official, who declined to be named, told the AFP that Gbagbo, who has relatives in Atlanta, Georgia, could seek refuge there but that the offer would not last long.

On Christmas Eve, ECOWAS passed a resolution threatening the use of force if Gbagbo refused to step down.

Speaking to reporters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja today, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who also heads ECOWAS, said negotiations were ongoing.

"We will continue with the discussion ... but the ECOWAS position ... after our last meeting still stands,” said Jonathan.

At a press conference Tuesday, ECOWAS commission chief James Victor Gbeho said, "a military option is still on the cards."

In the past, ECOWAS has sent troops to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. But in these cases they were invited by the governments in place. West African leaders are reluctant to use force because of the risk of being bogged down in an urban war and the potential reprisals on millions of people from Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso living in the Ivory Coast.

Reporting for FRANCE 24, the AFP’s Charles Onians said a military intervention is “the last thing” West African leaders want to see. “Any violence involving the UN or ECOWAS could easily spin out of control, considering Ivory Coast’s history of ethnic violence,” said Onians.

The 2002 civil war has effectively split the country into the rebel-controlled north and the loyalist south.

More than 170 people have been killed and more than 20,000 Ivorian refugees have fled to Liberia since the start of the latest crisis

Date created : 2011-01-04


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