/ 23 February 2011

Zuma mobbed by angry crowd in Côte d’Ivoire

Zuma Mobbed By Angry Crowd In Côte D'ivoire

African presidents trying to end Côte d’Ivoire crisis met presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara on Tuesday, but President Jacob Zuma was mobbed by angry pro-Ouattara youths, underlining the challenge they face.

The panel of presidents from South Africa, Chad, Mauritania and Tanzania met Ouattara in the lagoon-side Golf Hotel, where he is guarded by United Nations troops and besieged by Ivorian military checkpoints, a day after meeting his rival, Laurent Gbagbo.

Having refused to step down despite UN-certified results showing he lost a November 28 poll, Gbagbo has defied Western sanctions and international isolation that are ruining the economy. He has used the military to crush dissent.

The election was meant to bring stability after a 2002-3 war and subsequent years of economic stagnation. It has instead deepened divisions and raised the spectre of renewed conflict.

The African Union officially recognises Ouattara’s victory, but is divided between nations with a tough line on Gbagbo, especially West African ones like Nigeria, and a handful which, like South Africa, do not unequivocally back his rival’s win.

South Africa has tentatively backed Gbagbo’s call for a recount of the UN-certified poll.

More than two dozen pro-Ouattara youths surrounded Jacob Zuma’s car as he pulled into the hotel and South African security forces had to physically stop them pushing towards him.

“Zuma, Zuma, tell the truth,” the youths shouted.

Some 300 people have been killed since the poll and the turmoil has driven cocoa futures to their highest level in more than three decades.

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s biggest cocoa producer, and a spokesperson for Ouattara said he would extend the ban he had ordered on cocoa exports to March 15, after initially saying it would be March 10.

Talks, fighting
The Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) earlier said it would not join the AU mission because of threats of violence by Gbagbo supporters, but ECOWAS commission chief James Victor Gbeho later arrived. “He has just landed in a UN helicopter,” a source at the meetings said.

But Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who is also on the panel, stayed away because of threats against him.

The panel made no public statement.

The commercial capital Abidjan was mostly calm on Tuesday, after residents reported large explosions overnight.

Gunfire was later heard in the pro-Ouattara suburb of Abobo.

“There was a lot of shooting in the early afternoon. Everyone started to run inside and we saw military vehicles pass by, but don’t know what it was about,” said Ladji Traore.

At least six people trying to protest against Gbagbo were killed by the security forces on Monday, witnesses said. Ouattara’s camp said the toll was double that, including three of his supporters killed by a rocket-propelled grenade.

In a further sign that Gbagbo is digging in, and with February salaries due soon, his government said it would open two nationalised French banks later this week.

Gbagbo’s camp has earmarked the Ivorian branches of Société Générale and BNP Paribas, two of many foreign banks to have suspended operations, for nationalisation.

“The government will take all measures necessary to put these banks back to work,” Gbagbo’s inspector general of finance Bernadin Yapi told journalists. “This will show the whole world that the state can take its responsibilities.” — Reuters