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Thursday December 30, 2010

Bloomberg

Ivory Coast Opposition Says 32 Supporters Killed

December 16, 2010, 12:15 PM EST

By Pauline Bax, Olivier Monnier and Franz Wild

(Updates with Guillaume Soro call to uphold protests in thirteenth paragraph.)

Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast’s opposition coalition said 32 of its supporters were killed as security forces clashed with protesters in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, the commercial and political capitals of the world’s top cocoa producer.

The deaths come after Alassane Ouattara called for two days of protests to force Laurent Gbagbo to step down from the presidency. Troops loyal to Gbagbo used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse opposition supporters, said Meite Sindou, a spokesman for Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. Ouattara is the United Nations-backed winner of a Nov. 28 election run- off.

“The crisis could significantly escalate and spiral into political violence or a worst-case ‘return to war’ scenario,” Rolake Akinola, the London-based Principal Analyst for sub- Saharan Africa for VoxFrontier Consulting, said in an e-mailed note today. Gbagbo’s “continued intransigence increasingly suggests this will be a fight to the finish”.

Ouattara, 68, has urged his backers to march through Abidjan over the next two days to help him take control of government offices and state television. The army, which backs Gbagbo, reinforced its positions at the national broadcaster and the presidency before the protests.

Disqualified Votes

Ivory Coast has been in political limbo since the electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner of the runoff election with 54.1 percent of the vote and the Constitutional Council, after disqualifying seven voting districts in the north, said Gbabgo won. While Ouattara is supported by the U.S., the European Union and the African Union, he remains under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers and Gbabgo, 65, holds the presidency.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday said the deepening political crisis may spark a new civil war in the West African nation. Ivory Coast has been divided since 2002, when rebels in the north attempted to topple Gbagbo, accusing his government of discriminating against northerners.

Ban is “deeply concerned” that any violence now “could have unpredictable consequences, including reigniting civil war,” the UN said in a statement.

The U.S., Canada and the Netherlands on Dec. 14 advised their citizens in Ivory Coast to leave the country while the uncertainty persists. AU Chairman Jean Ping will visit Abuja, the Nigerian capital and headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States, before traveling to Abidjan, the Addis Ababa-based body said in an e-mail yesterday.

Cocoa Climbs

Cocoa climbed for the fourth day amid fears the political conflict would hamper exports, gaining $29, or 1 percent, to $3,008 by 11:04 a.m. in New York.

Ouattara’s strategy to invoke a popular rebellion mirrors the one used by Gbagbo to enter the presidency a decade ago. President Robert Guei was forced to flee as violent youth groups wreaked havoc in Abidjan after both he and Gbagbo claimed victory in disputed elections.

Ouattara’s call for marches is “a significant change in strategy,” Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a New York-based Africa analyst with DaMina Advisors, said yesterday in an interview. “It shows that he’s realized that the formal approach is not going to work. He realizes that he has to do something.”

Gunfire tore through Abobo, a neighborhood largely inhabited by northerners, before diminishing later in the day, Hamed Kone, an official with Ouattara’s youth wing said in an interview.

Unjustified Force

Amnesty International is “appalled by this completely unjustified and disproportionate use of force and calls on the Ivorian security forces to stop these killings immediately,” said Salvatore Sagues, West Africa researcher with the London- based group, in an e-mailed statement. “Those who opened fire on these people, as well as those who gave the order, will have to account for their acts.”

Army chief Philippe Mangou and other senior military officers have appeared on Radio Television Ivoirienne over recent days calling on troops to “respect the republican spirit”.

Security forces were simply protecting state institutions, Eric Ane, a spokesman for Gbagbo’s party, said in an interview. “The security forces are doing their job, which is to say to maintain order, not more,” he said, without saying how many people were killed.

‘Freedom of Information’

Guillaume Soro, whom Ouattara chose as his prime minister, called on supporters to “not be put off by this dictatorship of tanks and to reclaim pluralist freedom of information by the state media,” according to an e-mailed statement.

The Liberian Bureau of Immigration closed its border with its eastern neighbor on concern that former fighters were returning to Ivory Coast to participate in the violence.

“It is on full alert to arrest would be individuals attempting to cross into Ivory Coast to engage in conflict,” the agency said in an e-mailed statement.

Over 3,000 people had fled into Liberia from Ivory Coast since the runoff vote, Saah Nyumah, deputy executive director of the Liberia Refugees, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission told reporters in Monrovia yesterday.

-- With assistance from Ansu Konneh in Monrovia. Editors: Emily Bowers, Karl Maier, Philip Sanders.

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Monnier and Pauline Bax in Abidjan via Accra at ebowers1@bloomberg.net; Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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