Gbagbo Speaks

David Altman altman_d at
Thu Oct 26 08:27:13 MDT 2000

Gbagbo Speaks
October 25, 2000   By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Abidjan   The new de facto president of Cote d'Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo has
announced his immediate plans after a spontaneous popular uprising,
which appears to have toppled the military government of General Robert
Guei.   Many Ivorians believe Gbagbo was the rightful winner of Sunday's
presidential poll and accuse Guei of stealing the vote.   It was people power,
Belgrade-style, that propelled the Ivorian Popular
Front leader within sight of the presidency. But Gbagbo, a veteran
socialist, says he will not take up the post of head of state until the
National Electoral Commission has validated his victory and announced
the true results of the election.   The commission was dismissed on Tuesday
after General Guei declared
himself winner of the presidential election. That move triggered mass
protests in which thousands of people descended on to the streets of the
commercial capital Abidjan.   They poured onto the streets again on Wednesday,
defying jittery
soldiers who fired rapid volleys and threw teargas to try to disperse the
demonstrators.   The protestors, however, were not taking no for an answer. They
extraordinary courage as they marched towards the soldiers and kept
advancing, all the way to the presidential palace. The soldiers fired over
their heads and into the air, some also fired straight at the crowds. An
unconfirmed number of demonstrators were killed and others injured, but
they continued their protest.   The mood changed on the streets when news
filtered through that
General Guei, who himself swept to power in a military coup last
December, had fled the country. There were later conflicting reports that
he was still in Cote d'Ivoire.   When the head of Guei's presidential body guard
called his troops off
and ordered them back to the barracks, some of the soldiers- and most
of the para-military police (gendarmerie) came to side with the
demonstrators and stopped shooting. By late afternoon the crackle of
sporadic gunfire could still be heard coming from the direction of the
presidency in the heart of the business district of Abidjan.   But that did not
stop the man Ivorians are now calling 'president in
waiting' from holding preliminary meetings with a stream of senior army
and police officers, as well as leading members of the outgoing military
government.   Laurent Gbagbo, and his wife Simone Ehivet Gbago, received the
at his unfinished three storey home in the leafy residential Riviera
neighborhood where family, fans and supporters had gathered to
congratulate and cook for their leader. Gbago again thanked the people
of Ivory Coast for their support and for taking to the streets in their
thousands in an overwhelming response, he said, to his call to resist the
army, guns and teargas and march for democracy, freedom and an
honest election.   Earlier he spoke on national radio and television, describing
those who
had died for the cause over the past two days heroes and martyrs of
Ivory Coast.   Gbagbo said he had asked the outgoing prime minister, Seydou
to remain in that post to avoid a political vacuum until he could formally
assume the functions of president.   "I am a democrat and a republican." Gbagbo
told reporters, "so we must
follow the rule of law and respect the constitution."   Another lingering
problem for Laurent Gbagbo is a call by supporters of
his rival Alassane Ouattara, who was disqualified from standing for
president, for the election to be annulled. They too were on the streets of
Abidjan demanding their rights.

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