Ivory Coast Standoff: Why Gbagbo Won't Go

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ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire - Laurent Gbagbo is the West African president much of the world seems to be against. He refuses to leave office even though the United Nations declared his opponent Alassane Ouatarra the winner of the recent election.

Gbagbo's opponents call him a despot, a dictator and human rights violator -- a president so mad with power he's willing to lead his nation into civil war just so he can maintain his position.

But is this an accurate picture? CBN News found first lady Simone Gbagbo leading a praise and worship service at the presidential palace on the first Sunday evening of the New Year.

President Gbagbo listened intently to the pastor's message, his Bible at his side.

Gbagbo told CBN News he will not give up the presidency, despite outside pressure. He again called for an international commission to investigate voter fraud.

"Come and seek the truth, come here and do a recount of the votes and also look at all the reports and all the electoral documents and then see for themselves in more than 2,000 polling stations that the number of people who voted is more than those who were registered to vote," he said.

"And then they will understand," he added. "The rebels have given 600,000 votes to my opponent. 600,000!"

Recounting the Votes

When the Electoral Commission missed a mandated deadline to announce polling results, the country's Constitutional Council took over as required by law.

The seven-member panel threw out 500,000 fraudulent votes. That made Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of the vote. The Council determined that over 500 polling stations -- many in the rebel controlled north -- had recorded zero votes for President Gbagbo.

Gbagbo insists he would have received at least two at each voting place because two of his representatives were assigned to each station.

Electoral commissioner for the northern area, Hien André said armed rebels, supporters of Ouatarra, intimidated voters and were involved in many acts of violence.

"What happened was terrible because they began to burn cars, they beat people, they told people don't go out today to vote," he said.
Gbagbo also told CBN News that he witnessed rebels, not election officials, in possession of ballots.

"I saw the rebels transporting the boxes themselves," he said.

Supporters Attacked

Gbagbo supporter, Kone Fousseni, said he was attacked in his northern village after he was turned away from the voting place.

"The rebel leader was at the polling place where I went to vote, he told me I was not from that village and had no right to be there," he told CBN News. "He said I could not come in."

Fousseni said rebels closed the polling station at 2 p.m. When he challenged the early closure, they beat him with the butt end of a gun. He suffered a broken left arm and nerve damage in his neck. They threatened to rape him if he did not leave the area.

"I'm very sad and I am still traumatized," Fousseni explained. "You think I would be safe in my own village. That's why I went there."

Fousseni escaped sexual assault, but Gbagbo campaign supervisor for the northern city of Korogho, Coulibaly Kady, wasn't as fortunate.

Kady said a mob of Ouatarra supporters bludgeoned her, ripped her dress off, and raped her. Part of the assault was captured on a cell phone camera.

She was left for dead, but survived the brutal attack. The physical and emotional scars remain.

"I'm suffering, I don't know what to do, and I don't know what to think. Pain is still in my body. Even my breasts have some injuries because they beat me too much," she said. "I feel so ugly inside, I feel I don't like myself again because I feel so dirty -- I feel like I'm dead, I'm not alive anymore."

The U.N.'s Blind Eye

Koissy Ferdinand was Gbagbo's campaign director in the central region of Bouake-Koko. He said Gbagbo campaign offices like the one in the central Ivoirian city were destroyed.

He also told CBN News that several Gbagbo supporters there were assaulted as United Nations representatives looked on.

"They saw the injured people, the beating of people. They saw it," Ferdinand explained. "They didn't help us because they said they are sorry for what is happening, but they can't do anything. They just watched."

Nearly 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers are assigned to Ivory Coast. Ivoirians are becoming increasingly hostile to their presence. CBN News met two hospitalized men who said they were shot by U.N. troops Dec. 29.

Mahi Rabe recalled that he was walking home from work in the capital city of Abidjan just before noon when armed peacekeepers arrived by truck.

"Immediately they began to shoot everywhere, even at people who were walking, they shot directly at the people," Rabe recalled. "We don't understand why people who were supposed to come and help our country shot at us."

The U.N. rejected allegations that its troops opened fire on innocent civilians, but said its troops will respond aggressively if attacked.

Pressure to Say Goodbye

"I cannot agree with such behavior, I cannot support such conduct," President Gbagbo told CBN News. "I wish that the forces of the United Nations depart from the country, leave the country, and the French forces that are supporting them also leave the country."

But France, the U.N., the United States, and other nations say it's time for Gbagbo to go. They've expelled many of his ambassadors and have given control of Ivoirian money held in the West African Central Bank to Ouatarra, the man they've recognized as president.

Ouatarra alleges Liberian mercenaries recruited by Gbagbo have committed many acts of violence. 

"Some are being killed, women are being raped," Ouatarra claimed. "So, these are violations, which I cannot accept. We have even discovered mass graves. "

Ouatarra wants an international criminal court to put Gbabo on trial. In the meantime, he said West African nations could act to remove Gbagbo without causing a civil war.

"If ECOWAS does send in special forces with the objective of removing Mr. Gbagbo, he will be removed, without much damage," he explained. "So, this is what we are calling for."

"There can be non-violent ways of removing Mr. Gbagbo and I believe this should be done as quickly as possible so that Cote d'Ivoire can get definitive peace," he continued. "And I can start implementing the program, for which the Ivoirian people elected me."

The People's Choice?

But many Ivoirians residing in the capital city disagree.

CBN News went to the streets in Abidjan, in a market area known as the Sorbonne and people to express their opinions. Many were eager to share.

The crowd that gathered around us shouted, "Gbagbo, Gbagbo!" when we asked which leader they preferred.

"Gbagbo is doing his best to bring peace," one younger man said. "He doesn't want bloodshed and we Ivoirians want peace so we support him."

"President Gbagbo is the man we need here. He is the one we elected. He alone can unite this nation," a woman passing by stopped and told us.

"We do not want a leader imposed on us and when our Constitutional Council chooses and gives the results, we obey those results," she continued. "And we ask everybody to do so, to respect the result of the Constitutional Council."

Another man said, "We do not want bloodshed in this country. We want peace. I want an Ivoirian solution, not a foreign one"

Praying for a Peaceful End

For now, the stalemate continues. Gbagbo still occupies the presidential palace while the former rebel leader, Ouatarra remains, "captive" as he says, at the Golf Hotel.

Gbagbo said he is free to leave once his 300 supporters at the hotel lay down their weapons.

In the meantime, many Ivoirians and people around the world are praying that this political standoff will end peacefully.

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Gary Lane

Gary Lane

Sr. International Reporter

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