Gbagbo Sworn in as Ivory Coast President, Defying UN, Electoral Commission

Laurent Gbagbo was sworn in as Ivory Coast’s president, in defiance of the United Nations, the country’s Electoral Commission and U.S. President Barack Obama, who have recognized his rival as the winner of last month’s elections.

Gbagbo took the oath of office at a ceremony in Abidjan today, after the Constitutional Council said results released by the Electoral Commission showing Alassane Ouattara won 54.1 percent of the vote cast on Nov. 28 were invalid. Ouattara’s office said he also swore the presidential oath of office today. Armed forces leaders have backed the incumbent Gbagbo.

“It’s going to be a rough ride in the Ivory Coast,” Kissy Agyeman-Togobo, a partner at Songhai Advisory LLP, which serves clients interested in Africa, said by telephone from London. “There is a very, very real threat of conflict. I think it will be difficult for Gbagbo to hang on.”

The election was meant to unite the world’s top cocoa grower, which has been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since a 2002 uprising. The dispute over the results may worsen violence that left several dead during the campaign, with Ouattara supporters taking to the streets in protest.

The African Union said in an e-mailed statement that it has asked former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to lead an emergency mission to Ivory Coast “to facilitate the rapid and peaceful conclusion of the electoral process and the efforts to find a way out of the crisis.”

Mbeki Dispatched

Mbeki’s office said in an e-mailed statement that both leaders had agreed to talks.

“I swear solemnly and on my honor to respect and faithfully defend the constitution,” Gbagbo said to cheers and applause from about 400 supporters who packed a hall at the presidential palace. Gbagbo, 65, accused his rivals of not respecting the democratic process and said Ivory Coast’s sovereignty would never be compromised.

Ouattara was sworn in at 11 a.m. local time and had legal documents to prove he was the rightful president, his spokesman Mabri Toikeusse told reporters in Abidjan today, without giving further details.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro today tendered his resignation to Ouattara, who reappointed him to the post and asked him to form a new government. Soro is a former rebel and head of the New Forces grouping that controls the northern part of the country, told reporters in Abidjan today.

‘Good Hands’

“Ivory Coast is now in good hands,” Outtara told reporters at a ceremony at Abidjan’s Gulf hotel. “This was a historic election.”

State television screened footage late yesterday of General Philippe Mangou, chief of the armed forces, accompanied by the heads of the police, gendarmerie, navy and Republican Guard, going to congratulate Gbagbo.

“We have come to greet the president of the republic, we are here to express our admiration and to reiterate our availability and our loyalty, and to tell him that we are ready to take on any mission that he will entrust us with,” Mangou said.

The Constitutional Council annulled the results in seven regions in the north of the country, alleging irregularities, and gave victory to Gbagbo, Paul Yao N’Dre, its president, said in a statement read on television yesterday.

UN Backs Ouattara

Young-jin Choi, the UN mission chief, backed the results announced by the Electoral Commission on Dec. 2, saying the denial of Ouattara’s victory had “no factual basis.”

Ouattara supporters used tables and pieces of wood to barricade streets and set car tires afire in the Abidjan suburb of Treichville today. Police dressed in riot gear fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd and doused the fires with buckets of water.

Clashes between the rival camps have claimed the lives of 18 people in Abidjan alone since last night, said Amadou Coulibaly, a spokesman for Ouattara’s party.

“Gbagbo’s desire to hang onto his presidency, seemingly at all costs, could push the country over the edge into another civil war,” Gus Selassi, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in e-mailed comments.

The army has sealed off all the country’s borders until further notice, the military said in a statement read out on state television. Foreign television and radio signals have been jammed indefinitely, the National Broadcasting Council said in a separate statement.

Sarkozy

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement in New York saying he supports Choi and congratulating Ouattara.

Obama urged Gbagbo to accept defeat, saying late yesterday that “the international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France described Ouattara’s victory in the former French colony, which became independent in 1960, as “uncontestable and certain,” and called for an orderly transition of power.

“I am calling on the military and civilian authorities to respect the people’s choice and refrain from any initiative that could cause violence,” Sarkozy said today in Bangalore, India, at the start of a four-day state visit.

European Commission President Jose Barroso said in a statement today that he joined the international community in congratulating Ouattara as the “legitimate winner” of the elections and called for the outcome to be respected.

Ivory Coast’s growth has averaged 1.1 percent in the eight years since the conflict started as the cocoa-dependent country missed out on the wave of foreign investment in Africa from nations such as China.

Gbagbo’s supporters hold Ouattara, 68, responsible for the revolt in 2002, a charge he denies. Cocoa for March delivery climbed $67, or 2.3 percent, to 2,935 pounds in New York yesterday after jumping 4 percent the day before.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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