Political Crisis Ratchets Up Tensions In Ivory Coast

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For 40 years, Ivory Coast was a haven of peace and prosperity in West Africa. That reputation was dashed a decade ago with a military coup, followed by a disputed election and a rebellion that split the nation. Last month's presidential vote was meant to end the crises, but the post-electoral standoff has deepened the divisions.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DON GONYEA, host:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

For decades, the Ivory Coast was considered the most stable and prosperous country in West Africa. Kenya had a similar reputation in East Africa. But both have been plagued by turmoil in recent years. In a moment, we'll hear about accusations against those believed responsible for post-election violence in Kenya three years ago.

But first, we're joined by NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in the commercial capital of Ivory Coast - Abidjan - and has the latest on the standoff over who is actually president of the Ivory Coast.

Ofeibea, welcome.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings.

GONYEA: So it sounds like it is still tense there. Just set the scene for us if you would.

QUIST-ARCTON: We have Alassane Ouattara, who was proclaimed the winner of last month's presidential runoff by the election commission. It's certified by the United Nations peacekeeping mission here. And we have the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, president for the past ten years, who says he is president and that he was proclaimed so by the Constitutional Council, the supreme legal body here. So that's why we've had a standoff.

And the latest, Don, is that Alassane Ouattara's camp says it is holding a peaceful march today to take over the state broadcasting complex, which is under his rival's control.

But listen to what Ivory Coast's U.S. ambassador Charles Koffi is saying about this. He says it's pure provocation.

Ambassador CHARLES KOFFI: Everybody, including the United Nations, advising Ouattara against this demonstration, which, in this case, comes with danger. This can engender violence, because the security forces have to protect the lives of the citizens and the government and business buildings and properties.

QUIST-ARCTON: But, Don, Ouattara's camp is saying, hey, who is illegal here. We are the legal government. Alassane Ouattara is the legal president. And his spokesman, Patrick Achi, responds to accusations from the army under Gbagbo's control, that they can't possibly be provoking a confrontation.

Mr. PATRICK ACHI (Spokesman, Alassane Ouattara): I'm very surprised. Me going for a peaceful march provoking anyone? What about the one who is sitting there, who's lost elections and who doesn't want me to talk? And he's not provoking anyone? I'm surprised. I'm not the one who's provoking.

GONYEA: And the United Nations has 9,000-plus peacekeepers there in Ivory Coast. Do we know what role they are going to play at this point?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they've beefed up security. And currently, they are protecting Alassane Ouattara, who is operating out of a hotel east of Abidjan. But he is the candidate that not only the White House, the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and other world and regional leaders say is the winner. But you have Gbagbo digging in his heels, saying he is not moving, although the international community has asked him to step down.

GONYEA: So we've got this political impasse. This is a country that's been divided by rebellion. How are the citizens of Ivory Coast responding to all of this now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Everybody is jittery. I mean, this country is now on edge. They were hoping that the election would put an end to the turbulence, to almost a decade of rebellion, civil war. And now they see that if anything they're in an even deeper conflict than before.

And I have to add, Don, that the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday said because of the politically charged environment that could reignite a civil war or could lead to violence, that he appealed to all parties in Ivory Coast to exercise restraint and not to do anything that unintentionally or intentionally could lead to violence.

The army here is saying that this is sheer provocation, holding a march, and that the U.N. peacekeeping mission here will be held responsible if there is violence.

GONYEA: Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's reporting from Abidjan.�

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