Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ivory Coast Opposition Groups Challenge President Gbagbo's Rule

Ivory Coast opposition challenges president's rule

Saturday, February 13 06:36 pm
Reuters Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa

Ivory Coast's main opposition groups said they no longer recognised Laurent Gbagbo as president of the country on Saturday after he dissolved the government and electoral commission.

The top cocoa grower's leading opposition parties, who accused Gbagbo of staging a coup with the decision, said supporters should reject the president and called on the security forces to "conform scrupulously with their republican mission."

They did not elaborate on that call, and no clarification was immediately available. Police units tear-gassed about 100 opposition supporters trying to gather in the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city, shortly after the statement.

Gbagbo dissolved the government and election body on Friday in a row over the preparation of voter lists ahead of long-delayed polls meant to end the nation's political crisis.

"In consequence of this announcement, the (opposition coalition) RHDP proclaims that we no longer recognise Mr Laurent Gbagbo as the head of state of Ivory Coast," said a statement read out by opposition leader Alphonse Djedje Mady.

The parties of Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo's leading challengers, signed off on the statement.

"(We) will not recognise the new election commission, nor the new government," the opposition parties added.

The elections are needed to end years of instability and stalemate after a 2002-2003 war that divided the country, leaving rebels running the north hands despite various peace deals. Gbagbo has a firm grip on soldiers in the south

Gbagbo's announcement on Friday night is certain to delay the vote, which is already more than four years overdue and central to reforms aimed at helping the ailing cocoa sector.


Abidjan residents had rushed indoors after work on Friday, anticipating trouble. The normally bustling streets and palm-fringed outdoor bars were largely deserted overnight.

Traffic resumed on Saturday, but the atmosphere was tense. The leader of Bedie's youth wing earlier on Saturday called for Ivorians to take to the streets and burn tyres, stoking fears among residents of more turmoil.

"I'm really scared," said Arsene Yao, 30, a mechanic.

"There's going to be more violence and everything's going to burn. I can't imagine what the president was thinking."

Nothing in a peace agreement signed in 2007 gives Gbagbo the authority to dissolve the electoral commission, which is independent of all the warring factions. In his address, he invoked an article of the constitution to justify it.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro must pick a new government on Monday but the process of choosing an electoral commission boss could be long and drawn out, as all parties to the conflict are supposed to agree on the appointment.

After years of delays, many Ivorians have grown cynical about their leaders and their talk of elections.

"If they were going to have elections, they'd have had them already," said Rosie N'Goran, 28, who sells fruit by the roadside despite her college degree.

"I no longer trust any of them at all," she said.

Frustration is growing after more than seven years of crisis in a country that was once the envy of its neighbours, prospering while many of them stagnated or went to war.

Nationwide power cuts because of damage to a turbine have worsened the mood. Rioters burnt down a government building in the rebel-held west on Tuesday over the handling of the polls.

(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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