ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo had no grounds to dispute the results of the November 28 presidential election that gave rival Alassane Quattara victory, the United Nations said on Wednesday after reviewing the vote.
Defying international calls to step down, Gbagbo has sworn himself in for a new term and named a government, despite provisional results that gave Ouattara a near 10-point margin.
Ouattara has taken a presidential oath in a rival ceremony and refused to back down in a power struggle that risks sending the West African nation, the world’s top cocoa grower, back into conflict eight years after civil war split it into north and south.
The U.N. mission chief in the country, Y.J. Choi, rejected accusations from the Gbagbo camp that he had meddled in internal affairs by declaring Ouattara the winner, and said an Ivorian Constitutional Council move to annul Ouattara’s victory was “not based on facts.”
“I am not interfering in Ivorian affairs...I am only doing my job as requested by the Ivorian authorities,” Choi told a news conference.
“I remain absolutely certain that I have found the truth concerning the will of the Ivorian people. The people have chosen one person ... Mr. Alassane Ouattara with an irrefutable margin,” he said.
Cocoa futures eased on Wednesday after touching four-month highs this week, with the March ICE contract down $42 or 1.36 percent at $3,042 a tonne at 1615 GMT.
Uncertainty over Ivory Coast’s prospects kept the yield on its $2.3 billion Eurobond above 12 percent, partly on fears U.N. condemnation of Gbagbo’s action may scupper talks on $3 billion debt relief.
An assistant of Charles Koffi Diby, the former finance minister who negotiated that debt relief and has won praise for his handling of Ivory Coast’s economy, told Reuters he had joined Ouattara’s rival camp.
Gbagbo’s allies argued intimidation and fraud skewed the vote in the rebel-held north, a complaint the Constitutional Council — run by a staunch Gbagbo ally — upheld and used as grounds for cancelling hundreds of thousands of votes.
But Choi said there had been fewer recorded acts of violence in the north than in pro-Gbagbo western districts, and noted that even if these and other accusations were true, in the final tally Ouattara still had a clear majority.
Gbagbo remains in control of the army and state television and has shown no signs of backing down despite calls from the United States, the European Union and the West African ECOWAS bloc, which on Tuesday suspended Ivory Coast.
“It’s not for ECOWAS to decide who is winner ... of an election organised by Ivory Coast,” said Gbagbo’s Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje, adding that the U.N. had “gone adrift.”
Ouattara said he regretted that Ivory Coast had been suspended by ECOWAS and that this must be lifted soon.
“I therefore call on Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to hand over power. I hope reason will eventually prevail and that Gbagbo will submit to the will of the Ivorian people,” he said, reiterating a call for his activists to stay calm.
The pro-Gbagbo Notre Voie daily dismissed the meeting of West African leaders in Nigeria as “The Plotters’ Summit.”
Clashes with security forces and between rival supporters have left at least 28 dead and 280 wounded since November 26, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, with some observers fearing the real toll is double that.
Security sources say gunmen have been raiding the houses of opposition activists at night and killing them, something that has not been seen here since the 2002-3 civil war.
Ivorians have sought to continue life as normal and the business centre of the main city Abidjan was packed with traffic on Wednesday. But local business leaders have warned of looming problems for the economy unless the impasse ends soon.
“A number of businesses will not be able to pay taxes while others risk going bust,” said the CGECI business federation.
Additional reporting by David Lewis and Ange Aboa; Writing by Mark John