Ivory Coast's Gbagbo digs in, tells U.N. to leave

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The government of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo on Saturday told the United Nations and French peacekeeping missions to leave, escalating a dispute over last month’s elections.

Both the United Nations and the former colonial power, France, have urged Gbagbo to concede defeat in a November 28 poll, which was meant to heal the wounds of the West African state’s 2002-03 civil war but has instead reopened them.

Spokeswoman Jacqueline Oble read a statement on state television saying the government wanted the UNOCI and LICORNE missions forces to leave Ivory Coast, “and is opposed to any renewal of their mandate.”

“UNOCI has interfered seriously in the internal affairs of Ivory Coast,” she said.

The country has been in turmoil since Gbagbo claimed victory in the election with backing from the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council, the nation’s highest legal body, rejecting as fraudulent results showing that he had lost by nearly 8 percentage points to Alassane Ouattara.

The United Nations and almost all world leaders have recognized Ouattara’s win and demanded that Gbagbo step down.

The U.N mission includes some 10,000 soldiers and police, and is supported by the French LICORNE force. Hundreds of peacekeepers have been deployed to defend Ouattara’s makeshift headquarters in Abidjan’s lagoon-side Golf Hotel.

A U.N. Security Council diplomat told Reuters: “We’re studying the request. The president-elect is Ouattara and he hasn’t asked us to leave.”

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, said by telephone that it was still preparing a response.

On Thursday, at least 20 people were killed in clashes between pro-Ouattara marchers and security forces. Former rebels supporting Ouattara also briefly exchanged fire with government soldiers.


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has recognized Ouattara as the winner of the election, has warned of the potential for a resumption of civil war and called on all sides to avoid triggering further violence.

The leader of Gbagbo’s feared Young Patriots militia group, Ble Goude, told Reuters they may march on the U.N. guarded hotel where Ouattara is staying to force him out.

And at a rally of several thousand in the poor neighborhood of Yopougon, he called on his militia to “liberate” Ivory Coast.

“We will defend the sovereignty of our country,” Goude, also Gbagbo’s youth minister, said. “We ask them (the United Nations) to leave our country. Get ready, because from next Friday I will need you for the total liberation of Ivory Coast.”

The United States, France and the European Union have heaped pressure on Gbagbo to step down, threatening sanctions if he does not do so within days.

A top U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Friday that Gbagbo had also been offered a “soft landing” in exile in an African country if he steps down. But a Gbagbo spokesman said Gbagbo had no intention of leaving.

Gbagbo came to power in 2000 after a disputed election against coup leader Robert Guei, and two years later survived a rebellion that split the country into a rebel-held north and his government-controlled south.

The turmoil in the world’s top grower of cocoa raised cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks, though futures prices have since eased, with second-month cocoa in New York settling down nearly 2 percent on Friday.

Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Alison Williams