Political Crisis Deepens In Ivory Coast

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Guy Raz speaks with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election. The constitutional council declared incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo the winner over the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara on Friday, reversing the outcome backed by independent observers and raising fears of violence.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, host:

And I'm Guy Raz.

There is a new political crisis in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. As of today, it appears to have two presidents. Many had hoped last weekend's runoff election would bring an end to a long period of instability. And yesterday the electoral commission declared the opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, the winner.

But, today, the constitutional council proclaimed that the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, had won. And that, of course, is raising tensions once again.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from the Ivorian commercial capital in Abidjan, and, Ofeibea, what is going on there right now?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Total confusion, Guy. Yes, it looks as if there are two presidents. The former prime minister of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, who was a former International Monetary Fund economist, and incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo's camp saying that he's the president. And then there's a third party to this whole affair - the United Nations special mission here in Ivory Coast. And listen to what the secretary general's special representative, Young-jin Choi had to say very recently at a news conference.

Mr. YOUNG-JIN CHOI (Special Representative to Secretary General, United Nations): I am the certifier. (unintelligible) security council accepted by the Ivorian government. I have one single conclusion, by all accounts, there is one winner who is Mr. Alassane Ouattara.

RAZ: Ouattara draws much of his support from the predominantly Muslim north, is that right?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yes. And that's where President Gbagbo has contested the results of the election and said that Outarra's people cheated. There was vote rigging. But Outarra's camp has also that there was voter intimidation and cheating. So we have been - they have both been trading accusations. But at a news conference this evening, Alassane Outarra said, I am speaking to you for the first time as the president of Ivory Coast. So he's putting his foot down and the other side is also putting its foot down.

RAZ: And supporters of Outarra, of course, believe that this could be a turning point, that if in fact his victory is confirmed, it could change the direction of the country.

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely. They feel that he is the man for the job. He is the man that is going to reconcile and reunite Ivory Coast, which has been divided by a civil war and a rebellion dating back to 2002. And that meant the country was split between the rebel-held north, as you said, Outarra's stronghold, and the south that was controlled by President Gbagbo and which is mainly Christian and animist.

But Ivorians just want peace. They want to return to normal life. They want an end to the crises. The economy, which was one of the top economies in West Africa, a cocoa economy, has gone right down. People want their political leaders to agree and to reconcile so that the country can move forward.

RAZ: And Ofeibea, this morning we found out that the government, of course, closed air space and turned off foreign news channels in the country. Are you getting a sense of a kind of impending crisis or fear on the streets there? Or does it seem relatively, you know, calm?

QUIST-ARCTON: It's a tense calm. But, yes, there is definitely a crisis. Recently things have got calmer. There has been relative peace. And people thought, finally, the election was going to put an end to the crises, but it looks as if they're right back at base camp.

RAZ: Ofeibea, thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

RAZ: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reporting from Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

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