Tuesday 12 December 2017

France tells citizens to flee former colony over civil unrest

Marco Chownoved in Abidjan

A top opposition figure last night called for the international community to use force to oust Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency after the disputed election in Ivory Coast.

Amid growing fears of civil war, France yesterday urged its 13,000 citizens living in its former colony to get out.

Mr Gbagbo has refused to step down after a disputed election which he is accused of rigging, despite the UN and world leaders recognising Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 runoff vote.

His prime minister, Guillaume Soro, urged the UN, European Union, African Union and others to consider intervening to push Mr Gbagbo out.

"It is obvious that there is one solution left -- that of force," Mr Soro said.

He added that "200 people have so far been killed by the bullets of Liberian and Angolan mercenaries".

The UN said that at least 50 people have been killed.

But there appears to be little international interest in a military intervention. The US and the EU are imposing sanctions targeting Mr Gbagbo, his wife and political allies.

Hundreds of UN peacekeepers have been protecting the hotel where Mr Ouattara is based.

Mr Gbagbo had ordered all UN peacekeepers out of the country. The UN is staying put, raising fears that UN personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence as tensions mount.The US State Department has already ordered most of its staff to leave.

After a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, World Bank chief Robert Zoellick confirmed that loans have been halted to Ivory Coast.

Mr Ouattara has also sought to use financial pressure to force Mr Gbagbo out, appealing to the West African central bank (BCEAO) to cut off his access to state coffers, making it impossible to pay civil servants and soldiers. Such a move could set the stage for mass defections and turn the tide against Mr Gbagbo.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the West African country faces "a real risk" of return to civil war.

Fighters

Over the weekend, gunmen opened fire on the UN base, although no one was harmed. Two military observers were wounded in another attack.

The UN chief also has expressed concern about fighters from neighbouring Liberia entering into the growing political crisis in Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast was once an economic hub as the world's top cocoa producer. The 2002-2003 civil war split the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. While the country officially reunited in a 2007 deal, Mr Ouattara still draws his support from the northern half of the country while Mr Gbagbo's power base is in the south.

Irish Independent

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