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Turmoil Grips Ivory Coast Over Disputed Election

December 23, 2010 at 7:54 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight: the Ivory Coast and the bitter aftermath of that country’s disputed presidential election.

U.N. officials said at least 173 people have been killed since the balloting took place last month. Tonight, the United Nations General Assembly officially recognized the country’s opposition leader as the winner of that election. Many member states, including fellow African nations, condemned the violence.

The West African nation of Ivory Coast remained on the edge of full-scale conflict today, stoking fears of a renewed civil war. President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down, after losing last month’s election, which he had postponed for five years.

Officials of his government threw out half-a-million ballots from opposition strongholds. The U.S. and other countries say opposition presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara was clearly the victor.

In a nationally televised address Tuesday, Gbagbo accused those nations of a hidden agenda.

LAURENT GBAGBO, Ivory Coast president (through translator): The international community and the others are doing it not because the Ivorians want it, but because they want to install a person they want as president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The political crisis has paralyzed the tiny nation of 20 million people. A former French colony, it was once an economic powerhouse. But a series of coups and a civil war have taken their toll in recent years.

Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

JENNIFER COOKE, Center for Strategic and International Studies: The country is very fragile. The last 10 years have seen the country polarized deeply, resentment growing over Gbagbo’s continuing postponement of the elections, greater and greater suspicion among northerners and southerners. And, so, people are very tense. And there’s a lot of dry tinder there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The World Bank ratcheted up the pressure yesterday, cutting off its loans to Ivory Coast. In Paris, Bank President Robert Zoellick said he’d spoken to the president of Mali, and urged African banks to take similar steps.

There are also fears of renewed violence in the streets. Opposition supporters protested after the election.

MAN (through translator): Because he is destroying our country, we do not care about him. We like, we need Alassane Ouattara.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s U.N. report said at least 173 people have already been killed in post-election violence. It also cited hundreds of arrests and dozens of cases of torture.

The U.N. top human rights official in Ivory Coast called for a peaceful resolution.

SIMON MUNZU, U.N. director of human rights, Ivory Coast: We are not going to solve the current political crisis by extrajudicial killings, by looting and burning, by illegal arrests and detention, by enforced disappearances.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If conflict erupts, it may involve the 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. Over the weekend, President Gbagbo ordered them to leave. They refused. And, on Monday, the top U.N. envoy in the country said government supporters had threatened his troops.

U.N. patrols have now resumed, but they face hostility among part of the populace.

ELISE BONINE, Ivory Coast (through translator): I’m not happy about the extension of the U.N. here in the Ivory Coast. They come here only to separate and make problems between the Ivorian army and the U.N. military. We want them to leave, so that we can resolve our own problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Anticipating trouble, the U.S., France and Germany have now ordered their diplomatic personnel to leave Ivory Coast. And they have urged thousands of foreigners living there to evacuate.