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Côte d'Ivoire: Ban demands outgoing president step down after election defeat

The United Nations ramped up its efforts to resolve the violent post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire today, demanding that outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo step down in the face of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s clear victory and intensifying its contacts with African leaders.

At the start of an end-of-year news conference in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the situation had taken “a dangerous turn” with at least a dozen people killed in the divided West African country, where the UN has fielded a 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission since 2003 in efforts to help reunification.

“The results of the election are known,” he said of the polls, which were meant to be a culminating step in reuniting the country that was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. “There was a clear winner. There is no other option. The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public will cannot be allowed to stand.

“I call on him to step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further hindrance. The international community must send this message loud and clear. Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law.”

Mr. Ban warned against any moves against the Golf hotel in Abidjan, the commercial capital of the world’s largest cocoa producer, where Mr. Ouattara has taken up residence in the face of Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to leave the presidential palace and UN peacekeepers are stationed.

“Let me say clearly and directly: any attempt to obstruct UN operations or blockade the Golf Hotel is totally unacceptable,” he said. “Any attack on UN forces will be an attack on the international community. I emphasize: those responsible for the loss of civilian lives will be held accountable. In these circumstances, it is crucial for both parties to avoid provocations or a further escalation of violence.”

On the ground in Abidjan, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi conferred with African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Jean Ping on ways to resolve the crisis. It was the latest in a series of regional and transcontinental meetings he has held to ensure that “the will of the Ivorian people as expressed on 28 November” is respected, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) said in a news release.

The AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union (EU), as well as many individual countries, have all recognized Mr. Ouattara as the rightful victor of the run-off election.

The Security Council yesterday condemned “in the strongest terms” the post-electoral violence, including reported gunfire near the Golf Hotel and warned all sides that they will be held accountable and brought to justice for attacks against civilians. In a press statement the 15-member body welcomed AU and ECOWAS efforts and those of the countries in the region to assist in preserving peace and stability in Côte d’Ivoire.

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