x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ivory Coast president-elect calls for force to oust Gbagbo

A spokesman for Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said on Saturday that the West African bloc ECOWAS must use military force soon to oust Laurent Gbagbo or he would become entrenched in power.

ABIDJAN // A spokesman for Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said on Saturday that the West African bloc ECOWAS must use military force soon to oust Laurent Gbagbo or he would become entrenched in power.

Three presidents from ECOWAS member states are planning a second round of talks this week with Gbagbo, who has ruled the top cocoa producer for 10 years, telling him he should cede power to Ouattara or will face "legitimate force".

"There is only one solution. It is force," Ouattara's government spokesman, Meite Sindou, told reporters in Abidjan's Golf Hotel, which Ouattara has made his base, protected by some 600 U.N. peacekeeping troops.

"The day after tomorrow is the final round of talks. After that, the ECOWAS forces need to come. Gbagbo thinks that after two or three months he'll be able to survive and stay in power (...) and he has a point. It will become more difficult (to remove him)," he said.

Sindou said an intervention force of 2,000-3,000 troops would be enough to oust Gbagbo.

"A good plan, a real determination. With this, he will leave. Gbagbo does not want to face force," he said.

Gbagbo has shown no sign of giving in to growing international pressure to step down since Ivory Coast's top court, run by one of his allies, overturned a Nov. 28 election result that gave Ouattara victory by eight percentage points.

More than 170 people have been killed since the start of the standoff, which has rekindled tension in the world's top cocoa producer and threatens to restart a 2002-03 civil war.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle while the World Bank and the West African central bank have cut off his financing in an effort to weaken his grip on power.

ECOWAS defence chiefs met last week in Nigeria to work on a possible intervention plan.

A Gbagbo spokesman was not immediately available.

Asked on Friday if he would leave power in the event of an ECOWAS operation to oust him, Gbagbo told Euronews television: "I will see, I'll think it over. But for the moment it's not an issue."

Fearing a possible march by Gbagbo supporters, U.N. riot police armed with shields and teargas did drills along the road leading to the lagoon-side Golf Hotel, where U.N. troops stand guard at sandbagged machinegun positions.

The roads have been blockaded by the Ivorian military since a shootout between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces on Dec 16. Only U.N. helicopters can get in or out, apart from the occasional supply truck.

"We're trapped," said Ouattara supporter Traore Dramane, 24, an importer, who sleeps on the floor in a makeshift dorm. "It's too dangerous to leave. There are military forces everywhere. If I try to leave I might get killed."