Soldiers loyal to Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo have surrounded a hotel that serves as the headquarters of Alassane Ouattara, the UN-backed winner of the country's disputed presidential elections, media reports said Monday.
The move has reportedly prompted a tense stand-off in capital Abidjan between soldiers loyal to Gbagbo and UN peacekeepers guarding the hotel, as well as fighters from a former rebel group supporting Ouattara.
Even before the soldiers loyal to Gbagbo surrounded the waterfront Golf Hotel on Monday, armed fighters from the New Forces (FN)-- a former rebel group that controls the north of the country and supports Ouattara, had taken defensive positions around the hotel alongside UN peacekeepers.
The developments came after the country's Constitutional Court rejected a declaration made by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) that opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara had won the country's disputed presidential run-off polls held on November 28.
The United Nations and most of the international community have recognized Ouattara as the winner in the run-off polls. But, Gbagbo has so far refused to concede power, alleging widespread rigging in the country's rebel-held north.
Both Gbango and Ouattara have since declared themselves winners of the run-off polls and set up their own governments. While Ouattara is backed by the international community, Gbagbo has the support of the country's leading generals.
Despite allegations by Gbagbo's camp that Ouattara's supporters indulged in electoral fraud in the north, international observers insisted that the November run-off polls were conducted in an overall satisfactory and credible manner, barring some instances of violence.
Situation in the West African country remains tense with supporters of both the candidates accusing each other of rigging the polls and claiming election victory. At least four people have been killed in poll-related violence since the results were declared early last week.
The U.N. Security Council had earlier urged both sides to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner, and warned that it would not hesitate "to take the appropriate measures against those who obstruct the electoral process."
Separately, EU foreign ministers announced earlier on Monday that they have decided to impose sanctions on Ivorian officials who refuse to accept Ouattara as the winner in the presidential run-off polls.
The ministers said in a statement that the sanctions would target "those who are obstructing the process of peace and national reconciliation, and in particular who are jeopardizing the proper outcome of the electoral process."
Prior to the EU announcement, the African Union had suspended the Ivory Coast from its fold "until such a time the democratically-elected president effectively assumes state power." The regional Economic Community of West African States have also suspended the Ivory Coast until further notice and urged Gbagbo to "yield power without delay."
Ivory Coast was split by civil war in 2002, which eventually divided the country into government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. The first round of elections held on October 31 was intended to advance the ongoing international efforts to reunite the country.
Currently, there are more than 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to support efforts to reunite the country, which incidentally is the world's largest cocoa exporter. Before the civil war, Ivory Coast was seen as the symbol of peace and prosperity in West Africa.
by RTT Staff Writer
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