Incumbent president’s supporters accused of attacks in ongoing unrest, but deny any involvement.
|Residents looking at the covered charred body of an Ivorian soldier killed in the Abobo district of Abidjan [AFP]|
The Ivorian military stands united behind Laurent Gbagbo, a spokesperson said, after a political ally of rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara warned foreign leaders may resort to force to oust him.
Gbagbo is under international pressure to quit after a November 28 election that major powers say he lost to Ouattara, deepening a dispute in the West African state that has already killed 50 people and threatened to rekindle civil war.
“There is no doubt about the cohesion as perfect brothers in arms of the security and defence forces,” Babri Gohourou, a spokesperson for the army, said in an address on state TV late on Wednesday.
“[We] also reaffirm our unfailing attachment to the president.”
The military’s support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the reasons he is able to defy calls to step down.
The comment came hours after Guillaume Soro, the prime minister of Ouattara’s rival government, said the “only solution” to the crisis was for world leaders to use force to oust him if other measures fail.
Gbagbo retains state purse strings
Separately, the state-run newspaper Fraternite Matin reported that Gbagbo’s signature was still being recognised on state accounts at the central bank of West Africa’s monetary union, despite African leaders officially recognising Ouattara as president-elect.
Ministers from the West African Economic and Monetary Union bloc are scheduled to meet later on Thursday in Guinea-Bissau to discuss the Cote d’Ivoire, a bank official told Reuters.
The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) have all recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the election and have called on Gbagbo to step down.
The United States and the European Union have also since placed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over $800 million.
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said on Wednesday that he had talked to President Amandou Toumani Toure of Mali about getting the bloc to also freeze loans to Cote d’Ivoire.
With the aid freeze and the risk that Gbagbo’s signature may no longer be recognised on state accounts, some civil servants are worried their salaries soon won’t be paid.
But the state-owned newspaper on Thursday quoted Gbagbo’s finance minister as saying that, for the end of this month at least, they would be paid.
“Since yesterday, the salaries of officials and agents of the state of Cote d’Ivoire have been transferred into the different banks. Civil servants’ salaries are not threatened,” it said, adding that it would also be able to pay external debt.
“This credibility of the state’s signature is a great source of motivation for traders and strengthens their confidence in our institutions.”
Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.
The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara, and residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.
The World Bank’s move yesterday came against a backdrop of continued political tension. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has urged French citizens to leave the country if they had the means to do so.
Francois Baroin, a French government spokesman, said on Wednesday that the country recommends that its citizens who can leave Cote d’Ivoire do so temporarily, citing “undeniable sources of worry” in the country.
At least 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Cote d’Ivoire.
|Ouattara was declared winner of the November 28 presidential runoff by the UN mission in Abidjan [AFP]|
Gbagbo’s demand that the UN and French peacekeeping forces leave the country remains in place, and on Tuesday he said that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast”.
However, the UN Security Council has rejected his demand and, on Monday, extended the mandate for the force – known as UNOCI – for six more months.
UN peacekeepers are currently guarding the headquarters of Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.
‘Real risk’ of civil war
Earlier, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said that forces loyal to Gbagbo have tried to blockade the UN mission in Abidjan and that the country faces a “real risk” of returning to civil war.
Ban made the comments on Tuesday while briefing the General Assembly, and called on member states to prepare supplies to help the mission.
“The intention of Mr Gbagbo and the security forces loyal to him is clearly to blockade the United Nations peacekeeping mission and to suffocate the government of President-elect Ouattara,” Ban said.
Ban has said UN role “is now even more critical'” for the stability of Cote d’Ivoire and the region.