Security Council lends support to I.Coast's Ouattara

The UN Security Council has given its backing to Alassane Ouattara as winner of Ivory Coast's bitterly contested presidential election.

The council's action, after days of deadlock, completed the international seal of recognition for Ouattara and increased pressure on incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to give up his claim to leadership of the West African state.

Amid the tensions over the country's first election since a 2002 civil war, the Security Council warned that it was ready to take sanctions against anyone who threatens Ivory Coast's peace process.

Ivory Coast's former premier and presidential election candidate Alassane Ouattara (L) talks on phone nearby a UN soldier in Abidjan
Ivory Coast's former premier and presidential election candidate Alassane Ouattara (L) talks on phone nearby a UN soldier in Abidjan

The United Nations, African Union, the West African regional group ECOWAS, United States, European Union and leading financial institutions have all now called Ouattara as winner of the November 28 runoff vote against Gbagbo.

Gbagbo, who has been president since 2000, has shown no sign that he will concede defeat.

But after Gbagbo unveiled his own new cabinet, Ouattara's prime minister Guillaume Soro said his government was replacing ambassadors in key countries and "taking measures" to gain control of public finances.

"It is we who have the power. It is now a matter of bringing it into effect," said Soro, leader of the New Forces former rebel movement that controls the north of the country, in a statement.

Gbagbo however retains nominal control of the army and state television. He continues to occupy the presidential palace in Abidjan while Ouattara's government is in a hotel, guarded by UN peacekeepers.

Soro has warned that several thousand New Forces troops could be mobilised if Gbagbo does not give in. But he stressed: "We are not yet at the stage of using force."

The United Nations ordered 460 non-essential staff out of the country, and foreign companies also evacuated expatriates as tensions mounted. Ivory Coast is the world's leading cocoa producer and the tensions drove up futures prices to a four-month high on Tuesday.

Daily life has slowly showed signs of returning to normal in the main city, Abidjan, however, and the borders have reopened.

Russia had held up the Security Council statement since Friday, mystifying the other 14 members with its stance.

Following Russia's objections, the council's statement of support for Ouattara was couched in heavy diplomatic terms.

"The members of the Security Council call on all stakeholders to respect the outcome of the election" as proclaimed by the Independent Electoral Commission, which declared Ouattara the winner, and backed by a summit of ECOWAS leaders.

In a warning to Gbagbo's camp, Security Council members said they "condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort to subvert the popular will of the people or undermine either the integrity of the electoral process or the free and fair elections" in Ivory Coast.

The council reaffirmed that it was ready to "impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process" or obstruct the UN mission in Ivory Coast.

The 2002 civil war divided the country into government and rebel controlled zones. Gbagbo had postponed elections six times since his mandate ended in 2005.

There are more than 9,000 UN peacekeepers and international police in Ivory Coast. UN observers said though that despite some violence, the November 28 election was fair and free.

Clashes surrounding the election left at least 20 people dead, according to Amnesty International.

Some analysts said Ouattara may be forced to reach out to Gbagbo to stabilise the country, but the ECOWAS chairman Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, said the bloc did not want a negotiated unity government there.

"From the experience we have had so far in Kenya and in Zimbabwe, it has never really worked and that's why we don't want to contemplate that," Jonathan said.

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