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World News

Scenarios: Possible outcomes in Ivory Coast's crisis

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - An election meant to resolve Ivory Coast’s decade-long political crisis has resulted in two rivals claiming the presidency, with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo defying world pressure to hand over to Alassane Ouattara.

Fears of a return to civil war increased after forces loyal to the two camps waged a gun battle on the streets of the main city Abidjan last week. The United States has said nearly 200 have been killed since the November 28 election.

Here are a few possible scenarios for what happens next:

A COMPROMISE

A compromise is appearing increasingly unlikely as both sides continue to dig their heels in, and world and regional powers have come out so firmly in favor of Ouattara.

They have both named governments. Gbagbo’s team occupies official government buildings while Ouattara’s cabinet is run out of a hotel protected by a ring of United Nations troops.

Ouattara’s camp insists it will not accept any solution in which Gbagbo remains president. Moreover, both the African Union and the ECOWAS regional grouping say they would not favor a power-sharing deal such as those seen in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Gbagbo has made a career out of defying international pressure and, with the backing of state television, rejects world support for Ouattara as foreign meddling -- a line that will have resonance with many of his supporters.

Gbagbo has been offered exile in Africa, but his spokesman has said he is not leaving. Any such move is complicated by the possibility Gbagbo and his allies could face prosecution for outbreaks of violence.

MASSIVE POPULAR PROTESTS

Ouattara supporters are, for the moment, reluctant to take to the streets after a recent bloodbath, preferring instead to place their faith in diplomatic progress.

Gbagbo himself used protests to oust General Robert Guei during a disputed election between the pair in 2000, bringing thousands of his supporters onto the streets to force the coup leader to accept defeat.

Ouattara’s camp had called its supporters out on the streets last week in a failed bid to seize the state broadcasting headquarters, leading to lethal clashes with security forces.

They have since largely kept a low profile for fear of further violence, and residents in pro-Ouattara neighborhoods have said gunmen in masks have been attacking them by night.

Gbagbo’s presidential guard was out in force during last week’s street clashes, suggesting he can at least count on solid support from the heavily armed unit.

A spokesman for the army said this week that the troops remained unified behind Gbagbo, in an apparent attempt to counter rumors of divisions within the ranks.

Further street clashes can not be ruled out if the standoff drags on.

A RETURN TO WAR?

Renewed conflict is being cited as a very real scenario and one that could spread instability to the wider region.

Despite an arms embargo, analysts say both government forces and rebels have been re-arming for years. The election row has reignited north-south divisions as hundreds of thousands of votes were canceled in the rebel-held north.

Pro-Ouattara rebels and government forces briefly exchanged fire last week in Tiebissou, the central town marking the line between the rebel-held north and government-held south.

There is also a chance of foreign intervention. Ouattara’s top aide, former rebel Guillaume Soro, said this week that force is the only solution to ousting Gbagbo and urged intervention. French Minister in Charge of Cooperation Henri de Raincourt said any use of force would need to be led by African states.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS is scheduled to meet on Ivory Coast on Friday.

Any big military push would risk triggering a rush by Ivorians for refuge in neighboring countries which are in no fit state themselves to take in extra civilians.

More than 4,000 people have already crossed into Liberia and some 200 into Guinea since last month’s election, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said, adding that it was making plans for a possible greater exodus.

A return to conflict could jeopardize cocoa deliveries to world markets if supply routes from growing regions to the ports were disrupted. Yet long-time observers note that supplies got to market even at the height of the 2002-2003 conflict.

The U.N. has said it will stay and pursue a mandate which includes the protection of civilians under “imminent threat.” How the 10,000-strong force responds in the crisis will depend largely on how it interprets that mandate on the ground.

GBAGBO RUNS OUT OF CASH

International pressure on Gbagbo is starting to hit his pocketbook, calling into question how long he will be able to continue to pay the salaries of civil servants and -- more importantly -- the soldiers keeping him in place.

The World Bank this week froze financing to the country, affecting more than $800 million in aid commitments including budget support, and central bank ministers from the West African Monetary Union were mulling a similar move.

Ivory Coast’s state-run newspaper sought to allay concerns of a cash crunch this week, quoting Gbagbo’s finance minister as saying public salaries were not threatened.

There is also the question of funds from Ivory Coast’s main economic engine -- the cocoa sector. While exporters have said robust volumes are still reaching port, the process of registering beans for export has been delayed.

Industry sources have said exporters are reluctant to pay export levies required for export registration to either government for fear of retribution.

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