At the heavily guarded presidential palace, a longtime opposition leader was sworn in as president today, while politicians from all sides appealed for an end to the ethnic and political violence that wracked Ivory Coast today.
“I feel in this moment the renaissance of the Ivory Coast, the birth of a modern, prosperous, democratic and united nation,” said Laurent Gbagbo, who was swept into power Wednesday in a popular uprising that forced the former junta leader to flee.
But Wednesday’s street celebrations at the junta’s downfall were short-lived, and by this morning Gbagbo’s supporters, sometimes backed by security forces, were battling followers of a rival political boss with machetes, rocks and clubs. Dozens of people are reported killed.
At least three people were burned alive in the working class neighborhood of Yopougon, a witness said, and three mosques were also torched. At least one church was burned in a different section of town, as residents fled the worst affected areas.
Christians vs. Muslims Supporters of Ivory Coast’s most popular opposition figure, Alassane Dramane Ouattara — most of them Muslims from northern-based tribes — fought Gbagbo’s backers, who are mostly Christians from southern ethnic groups.
“People are dying,” said Aida Diallo, who was fleeing one burning neighborhood to get to her family’s home. “I’m scared, so scared.”
Much of the violence had died down in Abidjan by early afternoon, following a large-scale deployment of security forces firing tear gas into crowds and gunshots into the air.
Tonight, senior officials with Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front and Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans appeared together on state-controlled television to appeal for peace.
“We call on all our militants, our supporters, to desist,” Gbagbo official Lida Kouassi said. “Ivory Coast is in the process of coming out of anguish.”
An official with Ouattara’s party said at least 40 — and perhaps as many as 80 — of his supporters were killed today. Gbagbo’s party officials said there was no way to know how many of their supporters had died. About 50 people had been reported killed in clashes Tuesday and Wednesday. Those figures could not be independently confirmed.
Battle Within the Opposition
Ouattara’s supporters are demanding new presidential elections be held in this West African nation after their leader was excluded from Sunday’s vote.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan backed their demand today, saying conditions were now right to put in place a democratic process to let the country’s people freely elect a leader.
The United States has also called for new elections.
“It’s going to be very important for the voices of the disenfranchised Ivorians to be heard, and, in that sense, the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections will be needed,” State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.
Reeker has called the the elections held in Ivory Coast on Sunday “fundamentally flawed” for “machinations” which included the exclusion of key opponents and General Robert Guei’s suspension of the election commission when he declared victory.
It has also decided to order family members of government staff and non-critical personnel out of Ivory Coast, according to a State Department official.