Troops 'will retaliate in Ivory Coast'
Abidjan - The head of the army is warning that his troops reserve the right to retaliate following two days of deadly clashes in an opposition stronghold neighborhood, raising concerns about more violence amid Ivory Coast's political crisis.
The residents of the Abobo area in Abidjan voted in large numbers for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, whose victory in the November 28 presidential election has been recognised by the international community. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power, still controls the military.
Authorities have imposed a curfew in Abobo and sent in a convoy of military trucks following the clashes that began on Tuesday after a police raid. At least four civilians and as many as seven police officers have been killed in the unrest.
"In order to find these people attacking the republic inside their hiding places, the armed forces of Ivory Coast want all human rights organisations, as well as the national and international community to know that these attacks against us are equal to acts of war… putting us in a position of legitimate self-defense," army head Philippe Mangou said in a declaration read on state TV.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern about the violence in Abobo, and the UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that Ban urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid further clashes".
Gbagbo lost the election by a nearly 9-point margin according to results certified by the UN following a 2005 peace deal. That accord invited the UN to act as the final arbiter of the election, creating an independent mechanism for determining the outcome.
Blow to democracy
Elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya in recent years have ended with the opposition candidate forced to accept a power-sharing agreement with the sitting president, even though most observers say the opposition had won in both instances.
Country experts warn that Gbagbo is likely hoping for a similar arrangement and is using the tool of human rights abuses, including the military crackdown, as a way to raise the stakes.
Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said there is a strong aversion from both African and Western leaders to reinforce the precedent of "government by negotiation".
"The idea that an incumbent who loses an election need only hang on and threaten violence in order to obtain a power-sharing deal," she argues, "is a dangerous blow to democracy in a continent that will see some 15 national elections in the coming year."