Ivory Coast’s democratically elected leader says his forces will not capture the entrenched incumbent who has been holed up for days in an underground bunker at the presidential residence, and instead will wait for him to run out of food and water.
In his first television appearance since the siege of Abidjan began, Alassane Ouattara said that his forces are setting up a security perimeter around the compound where Laurent Gbagbo is sheltering with his family.
Mr Ouattara also said his forces will work to secure the streets of Abidjan, where people have hidden inside their homes this week amid heavy arms fire. UN and French forces have been attacking Gbagbo’s weapons arsenal, which has been used against civilians during a four-month political stand-off.
Mr Ouattara also sought to get the economy of the world’s largest cocoa producer functioning again, calling for banks to open on Monday and for the European Union to lift sanctions so that cocoa exports can resume. The goals are ambitious ones, under security conditions so dire that UN and French forces have been evacuating foreigners from Abidjan neighbourhoods.
Mr Ouattara was declared the winner of the November presidential election but Gbagbo has refused to cede power. On Thursday, he continued to insist he had won and stressed he would never leave the West African country he has ruled for the past 10 years.
“I reached the head of state and his wife less than an hour ago and no, he will not surrender. President Gbagbo will not cede,” said his adviser Toussaint Alain by telephone from Paris. “It’s a question of principle. President Gbagbo is not a monarch. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He is a president elected by his people.”
Gbagbo was declared the loser both by his country’s electoral body and by international observers including the United Nations. After four months of diplomacy, Mr Ouattara gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group. UN and French forces joined the effort this week.
Mr Ouattara’s forces stormed the gates of Gbagbo’s home on Wednesday, but stopped short of killing the entrenched leader, a move that could stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46% of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo.
French defence minister Gerard Longuet estimates that Gbagbo has 1,000 troops, compared to the 2,000-strong force fighting to install Mr Ouattara.
“This will be over very soon,” Mr Ouattara’s envoy to the UN, Youssoufou Bamba, said in New York.
He said when Gbagbo is taken “he will be alive and well. He wants to be a martyr. We won’t allow (his death) to happen”.