Renegade Leader Stays Put In Ivory Coast

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In the Ivory Coast, the incumbent leader has once again been given an ultimatum: Relinquish power or face the possibility of being ousted by force. The message was delivered for a second time by several African leaders. Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave after losing the presidential election.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the Ivory Coast the incumbent leader has once again been given an ultimatum - relinquish power or face the possibility of being ousted by force. That message was delivered for a second time by several African leaders who, along with most of the rest of the world, say President Laurent Gbagbo lost the recent election to his opponent. For his part, the president has indicated he plans to stay.

NPR's correspondent in West Africa, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, is keeping close watch on this story and joined us to talk about it.

And, Ofeibea, the Western African leaders seem to be a fix. Twice they've given President Gbagbo his marching orders. Twice he's refused to go.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. And now he is - which seems a little ironic - but he seems to be in a position of strength because he faced them down. And Laurent Gbagbo is well known for being able to drag things out. After all, he has been unelected for the past five years. And people had to drag him to elections. So he's now saying, well, you've talked about military force.

If there is any sort of military intervention in Ivory Coast it could spark not only the civil war again but a regional conflict. So African leaders are in a difficult position, because many of them have their nationals living either as seculars or as expatriates in Ivory Coast. So there might be recrimination. There might be reprisals against them. Everybody is thinking very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Well, right. So this ultimatum gets closer that is, OK, you said armed intervention, here we are. How likely is it actually to happen?

QUIST-ARCTON: Nobody wants a civil war in Ivory Coast. It is a pivotal country in this region. Everyone from all over the region comes to Ivory Coast to work. And, of course, Ivory Coast is surrounded by Sierra Leone and Liberia, countries that have had civil war. So people know how it can destabilize the region. Everybody wants to avoid that at all cost.

But now that Laurent Gbagbo has effectively said I am not going. I am the elected leader. And West African presidents have said, well, if you don't go we'll be forced to push you. This could drag out for weeks and weeks and months and months.

MONTAGNE: Well, if you had to say there would be or wouldn't be, what would be your thought?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think I'd have to hedge my bets, Renee, and say there may be, but it would be very reluctant. West Africa doesn't need a war at the moment. And the countries that would be likely to contribute troops - Nigeria, the biggest regional power, Senegal and others have other priorities on their plate. Nigeria has its own security problems and key elections coming now. Nobody wants to commit troops and get burdened with what could be urban warfare in a neighboring country.

MONTAGNE: The challenger Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner by Ivory Coast electoral commission. Also the international community supports that call. Where does this impasse leave him and his supporters?

QUIST-ARCTON: Not in a very strong position, although he has regional and international support, because if Ouattara is seen to have been imposed as president by foreign powers and by foreign armies, Ivoirians are not going to digest this well. And not just those who support Gbagbo. Those who say, you know, this is a sovereign country. We don't want anyone imposing anyone on us. We voted for Ouattara, but we want him to be a freely elected leader, not one that is placed here by military either from West Africa or from further afield. So he's in a very tough position.

MONTAGNE; Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from Dakar, Senegal.

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