Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sanctions and changes in Cote d'Ivoire

A couple of new developments occurred yesterday for the ongoing political turmoil in Cote d-Ivoire. The armed forces for internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara took control San Pedro. The port town is very important to the economy of Cote d'Ivoire because most of the cocoa exports are shipped out from San Pedro. The Ivory Coast is the worlds biggest exporter of the cocoa crop.

Secondly, the United Nations voted for sanctions against Cote d'Ivoire President Gbagbo. Laurent Gbagbo lost an election in October but refuses to step down. Gbagbo's refusal has led to the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in the country.

First, on the change in control of Cote d'Ivorie's major sea port. Reuters writers Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa report from the embattled area.

Residents and combatants from both sides said the pro-Ouattara forces were in control and were patrolling the town, and that it was now largely calm apart from some sporadic shooting.

"We have taken the port of San Pedro. Gbagbo's forces have all left. We are in full control," a military spokesman for Ouattara's forces, Seydou Ouattara, told Reuters.

Resisting pressure from the African Union and the West, Gbagbo has refused to step down since a presidential election last November, which U.N.-certified results showed he lost to Ouattara by an 8-point margin, sparking a deadly power struggle.

"Shooting started at around 9 p.m. (2100 GMT on Wednesday) then we saw the rebels' vehicles drive into the town," said one San Pedro resident, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. "Everyone's staying indoors, but we're still hearing a lot of gunfire."

Next up, we will get details on the new UN sanctions from the Voice of America and writer Margaret Besheer.

The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast’s defiant incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who, despite international demands, refuses to hand over power to the internationally recognized winner of the November presidential election.

Resolution 1975 calls on Mr. Gbagbo to respect the will of the Ivorian people and "immediately step aside," ceding power to Alassane Ouattara, whom the United Nations has certified as the winner of the election.

The resolution, approved Wednesday, urges the nearly 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians under "imminent threat of violence," including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.

In a bid to increase pressure on Mr. Gbagbo, the 15-member Council also imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on him, his wife and three close associates.

France and Nigeria co-sponsored the resolution in the Council. French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters the situation in Ivory Coast is "worsening by the hour." "In a sense this resolution is maybe the last message that we wanted to send to Gbagbo which is very simple: Gbagbo must go. It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war and maybe bloody violence in the streets of Abidjan," Araud said.

The U.N. says at least 462 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December. Up to 1 million more have been displaced, with thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Liberia and Ghana.

Reports from Ivory Coast Wednesday said forces opposed to Mr. Gbagbo have seized the country’s administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, although Mr. Gbagbo’s troops still control the main seat of power, the commercial city of Abidjan. Pro-Ouattara forces also have seized several other towns and claim to control nearly 75 percent of the country.

Mr. Gbagbo’s government is calling for a cease-fire, but Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu said it is only because he feared imminent action from the Security Council.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Mr. Gbagbo has a choice. "Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed, and more diplomatic and economic isolation. Or Mr. Gbagbo and his followers can finally reject violence and respect the will of the Ivorian people," she said.

She said that if the latter path is chosen, Ivorians can reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy that once was the admiration of all of Africa.

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