April 12, 2011 / 1:04 AM / 9 years ago

Support may boost Ouattara chances in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara won the backing of his defeated rival’s army chiefs while the EU and the World Bank pledged financial support to help end the country’s prolonged divisions.

Fighters loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara celebrate with a national flag in the main city Abidjan, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

Army chiefs who fought for Laurent Gbagbo, including chief of staff General Philippe Mangou, swore loyalty to Ouattara on Tuesday, a day after his forces captured Gbagbo, who had refused to relinquish power after November elections.

In a boost to his legitimacy, the former military top brass were shown on Ouattara’s TCI television station meeting him.

Mangou’s aide de camp told Reuters the general had called on all police and security forces to back Ouattara after talks at the new president’s headquarters in the main city Abidjan.

President Barack Obama called Ouattara to congratulate him on assuming his duties and offer support for efforts to unite the country and restore security.

The European Union also urged Ouattara to form a national unity government to help put the war-shattered country back on track and pledged support for the new government.

Gbagbo’s arrest ended a four-month power struggle that had descended into all-out conflict, with more than 1,000 killed, more than a million uprooted and the economy of the once shining star of the West African region in tatters.

The arrest has left Ouattara as the sole leader in the world’s largest cocoa grower, although analysts say it may not be enough to stop violence and heal deep wounds.

The fallen Gbagbo, whom the United Nations said late on Tuesday was still at Ouattara’s Golf Hotel headquarters in Abidjan after saying he had been moved to a secure place earlier, called for an end to the fighting on Monday.

Ouattara — recognized internationally as president — faces a huge task reuniting a divided country and rebuilding the economy while investigating some of the atrocities committed by both sides.

Former colonial ruler France promised 400 million euros ($578.7 million) in aid while the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, announced a 180-million-euro aid package. The World Bank said it was ready to re-engage with Ivory Coast.

URGENT NEEDS

“The EU (180 million euros) recovery package (to Ivory Coast) will notably provide support to ensure basic social needs, such as health, water and sanitation,” EU Development Commissioner Andris Pielbalgs said in a statement.

The 400 million euros of French aid is intended for emergency relief to the population, the city of Abidjan, the restart of essential public services, economic activities and also the payment of debt arrears to financial institutions, the French ministry of finance said.

In the commercial capital Abidjan, a city of four million where people were trapped in their homes with little food or water as fighting raged for 10 days, Ouattara faced a long list of challenges.

Dwindling supplies as well as frequent power cuts and a shortage of medicines have fueled fears of a humanitarian disaster unless authorities can act swiftly.

“Given the crisis we are in today, we cannot say that the 400 million euros are enough,” Ouattara’s Finance Minister Charles Koffi Diby said on the sidelines of CFA Franc zone finance ministers meeting in Chad.

“We will soon travel to Washington for the spring World Bank and IMF meetings. Roundtables will be held to discuss way of helping the Ivory Coast’s economy recover,” he said.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a conference call he would meet Ivorian officials this week during semi-annual meetings of the bank and IMF in Washington to discuss how to help Ivory coast move beyond its political crisis.

The World Bank froze aid to Ivory Coast in December.

The end to the standoff also could pave the way for a resumption of cocoa exports, the reopening of banks and other institutions previously blocked by sanctions and fighting.

DANGER STALKS

In a televised speech late on Monday, Ouattara called on Ivorians to refrain from reprisals and violence, calling for “a new era of hope.”

However, Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday that despite Ouattara’s call, people perceived as being Gbagbo supporters were at risk of violent reprisals.

“Today in Abidjan, armed men, some wearing military uniforms, have been conducting house-to-house searches in neighborhoods where real or perceived supporters of Laurent Gbagbo are living, including Yopougon and Koumassi,” the rights organization said.

For weeks, Gbagbo allies had armed youth gangs with Kalashnikov rifles and urged them to defend their country. After terrorizing whole neighborhoods, those youths are now on the losing side — leaderless, angry and just as dangerous.

Slideshow (16 Images)

A Gbagbo aide said only negotiations with Gbagbo’s camp would spare further turmoil.

“There must be negotiations, talks with Gbagbo who is the only one who can prevent Ivory Coast from plunging into violence,” Pascal Affi N’Guessan, head of Gbagbo’s FPI party, told Radio France International.

($1=.6912 Euro)

Additional by reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan, Foo Yun Chee and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena, Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Bate Felix and Silvia Aloisi in Dakar; Writing by Bate Felix and Silvia Aloisi; editing by Michael Roddy

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