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Ivory Coast: Tension At Hotel Seat Of Ouattara “Government”

By on December 13, 2010

 On Monday morning, troops loyal to Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo were seen near the hotel that houses the rival government declared by his enemy Alassane Ouattara Monday.
Armed members of the New Forces (FN), former rebels who have joined Ouattaras camp, adopted defensive combat positions around the hotel but there was no immediate sign of fighting, according an AFP reporter at the scene.
Gbagbo and Ouattara both declared themselves president in the wake of last month’s disputed presidential election. Ouattara has been recognized by the international community, but Ivorian generals remain loyal to Gbagbo.
Witnesses and officials told AFP that Gbagbo loyalists had briefly attempted to control access to the waterfront Hotel Golf in Abidjan, where Ouattara and his supporters are encamped under United Nations protection.
A spokesman for the Ouattara camp said the troops had lifted the blockade after around two hours, when they were approached by members of the FN.
“They came at around 8.00 am and tried to stop people getting through. They left around 13.30 pm,” said Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi. “Some FN members approached them, but there was no incident.” At midday U.N. peacekeepers could be seen deployed near the FN members, but there was no sign of loyalist security forces.

In the meantime, European Union is set to slap “restrictive measures” against Laurent Gbagbo whom is refusing to recognize his rival’s victory. A draft statement approved by ambassadors of the European Union is to be approved by foreign ministers meeting in Brussels later Monday saiying the EU “has decided to adopt restrictive measures without delay.” “The measures would concern people obstructing the peace process and particularly those refusing to submit to election results,” the source said.

Gbagbo and Ouattara are locked in a dangerous face-off after both claimed victory in last month’s presidential election, declared themselves president and named rival governments.
Ouattara has been recognized by the United Nations and the international community, but Gbagbo retains control of the Ivorian army and the country’s main cocoa-exporting harbors, which are key to his ability to rule.
Saturday, Gbagbos newly named “interior minister” accused unidentified foreign diplomats of trying to suborn senior military officers. “For several days, civil and military members of certain Western chancelleries in Abidjan have discreetly approached senior officers in our national army,” Emile Guirieoulou alleged threatening unspecified reprisals against international interference and warneing that Gbagbos government “will no longer tolerate meddling by any diplomat in the internal affairs of the state of Ivory Coast”.
Guirieoulou alleged that, as well as contacts with the national military, “approaches have been made to state media, to regulatory bodies and to top directors of these media.”The aim of these moves is to find military personnel and police” to back Ouattara and “to recruit the state media in an effort to destabilize and break up peace and social cohesion”, he claimed. Gbagbo has control of the national army, some 18,000 troops, and of the mainly Christian south with its key ports, cocoa fields and oil facilities. Ouattara, a former prime minister from the largely Muslim rebel-held north, has named former rebel Guillaume Soro, to head his rival government. Soro has several thousand northern “New Forces” troops, former rebels, behind him and has warned they could mobilize if Gbagbo doesn’t budge, but he says he is seeking a peaceful solution. Some army commanders have pledged allegiance to Gbagbo, but analysts and allies of Ouattara say his military support may not be absolute. “We have been contacted by several officers in the FANCI Änational armed forcesÜ and it is clear that not all the army supports Gbagbo,” said one source close to Soro. One Ivorian journalist specialized in military affairs said these pro-Ouattara elements “haven’t yet shown themselves for tactical reasons.”It’s the army that will determine the real winner between Gbagbo and Ouattara,” he said. “It’s as divided as the politicians are.”
Nevertheless, Gbagbo still seems to have undisputed control of two key units–the well-armed and motivated Presidential Guard and the Cecos anti-robbery squad–making any attempt to unseat him a risky undertaking.
– The United Nations has ordered 460 non-essential staff out of the country and France is drawing up plans to evacuate thousands of its nationals from its former colony if needed.
Ouattara declared himself president based on U.N.-endorsed results from the Nov. 28 election, and is trying to keep his grip on the levers of state, demanding that members of the military and civil service abandon Gbagbo.

(Dow Jones)

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