ABIDJAN/ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria evacuated all its diplomats from Ivory Coast after its embassy was attacked on Tuesday as the power struggle following a disputed election grew more violent.
Ivory Coast’s November 28 presidential election was intended to heal the scars of a 2002-03 civil war but has instead triggered a standoff between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara, with the latter recognized as victor by the electoral commission and the outside world.
Gbagbo has refused to step down despite international pressure and sanctions backed by the United Nations, European Union, the United States, African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS — all of which recognize Ouattara as president elect.
“We had to evacuate all our diplomats because our embassy in Cote d’Ivoire was attacked,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told reporters in Abuja.
Arrangements were also being made to evacuate other Nigerian citizens in Ivory Coast. Ajumogobia did not say when the attack on the embassy in Abidjan took place or who carried it out.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has led calls by African leaders for Gbagbo to step aside and has told U.S. officials Nigeria will back whatever sanctions necessary.
ECOWAS heads of state are due to meet on Friday in the Nigerian capital Abuja to discuss developments in Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo’s camp has accused the United Nations and world powers of interference in its internal affairs and he still has the backing of the security forces.
Ouattara’s poll victory was overturned on grounds of alleged fraud by the Constitutional Council, a legal body led by a staunch ally of Gbagbo. The move was rejected by the U.N. envoy, who must certify the results
The U.N. Security Council agreed on Monday to keep 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast on Monday, defying Gbagbo’s demand that they leave. EU countries imposed a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife and 17 of his allies.
Diplomats in Abidjan say Nigeria was amongst the African countries that have offered Gbagbo sanctuary, another one being South Africa.
An anti-Gbagbo protest last Thursday degenerated into a gun battle between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces near the lagoon-side Golf Hotel, where his rival administration is holed up under guard of U.N. peacekeepers with sandbagged machine gun positions. At least 20 were killed in protests — Gbagbo’s camp says half of those were his security forces.
As security deteriorates, death squads have targeted Ivorians in pro-Ouattara neighborhoods, according to the United Nations, human rights groups and Ouattara supporters.
The United Nations says at least 50 people have been killed and hundreds wounded and abducted from their homes in the past few days.
Gbagbo’s government denies using excessive force to put down protests or being behind kidnappings.
“The professionalism of the security forces have allowed us to avoid a bloodbath and limit damage to people and goods,” Gbagbo’s interior minister Emile Guirieoulou told reporters on Monday. “It’s easy talk about abductions ... with no proof.”
Tensions in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, have pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks on market fears of a disruption to supplies. So far, beans have been getting through to port but there have been delays in registering them for export.
The head of U.N. peacekeeping told French daily Le Figaro that Gbagbo’s troops were attempting to cut off food, medical and water supplies, echoing accusations by the envoy here.
“Gbagbo’s camp is doing whatever it can to cut off our fuel and food supplies, notably by blocking the port. We are studying other supply routes. We have some reserves, but the situation is becoming more tense and more dangerous,” Alain Leroy said.
A blockade of the hotel where presidential claimant Ouattara is holed up is turning into a humanitarian issue, France’s ambassador said in an interview published on Tuesday.
Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Ouattara’s government, told Reuters on Tuesday that access restrictions had tightened lately but played down the impact.
“For several days after we had the march (on Thursday), they started blocking the whole thing. But since then they loosened up ... so things are okay now,” he said.
In Amsterdam, the International Criminal Court prosecutor said it would investigate any leaders in Ivory Coast who incited bloodshed or attacks on U.N. peacekeepers.
“Violence is not an option. Those leaders who are planning violence will end up in The Hague,” prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.
He mentioned Gbagbo’s youth minister, Charles Ble Goude, who has said the incumbent’s supporters would fight to the death to keep him in power.
Additional reporting by Brian Love and Nick Vinocur in Paris, Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Angus MacSwan