Civil war looms as foreigners are warned to leave Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast appeared to be sliding back into civil war yesterday as foreign nationals were warned to leave the country, while government-backed "death squads" were reported to be abducting opposition supporters.

The international community stepped up its financial blockade of the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat in last month's election, with the World Bank and regional leaders freezing loans. The EU and US have already slapped sanctions on Mr Gbagbo and, along with the African Union and regional ECOWAS bloc, have recognised his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, as the rightful President.

Mr Gbagbo accused the international community of "declaring war on Ivory Coast", as world leaders sought to break a recent run of African elections in which the losers have been allowed to negotiate a longer stay in power.

But the real war on the ground appeared to be targeting opposition supporters, after the UN confirmed that the regime was recruiting mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia and breaking an international arms embargo. Ominously, Guillaume Soro, who is likely to be appointed Prime Minister in any Ouattara administration, last night called on the international community to use military action to oust Mr Gbagbo. "It is obvious that there is one solution left – that of force," he told France's i-Télé digital TV channel.

The stand-off is being keenly watched across the continent ahead of a new year in which more African elections will be held than in any year since the era of independence. In a stark change from the cautious diplomacy that accompanied post-election crises in Zimbabwe and Kenya, there have been clear calls for the incumbent to step down. The UN has refused Mr Gbagbo's demands that UN peacekeepers withdraw from the country, while Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon warned that Ivory Coast may slip back into "civil war". He demanded that Mr Gbagbo's forces end a blockade on the opposition HQ, where they have encircled UN peacekeepers and refused to let them bring supplies in.

"Facing this direct and unacceptable challenge to the legitimacy of the United Nations, the world community cannot stand by," said Mr Ban. He also confirmed that "mercenaries, including freelance former combatants from Liberia, have been recruited to target certain groups in the population".

France's call for its 15,000 citizens to "temporarily leave" its former colony has stirred fears that the country may yet be abandoned. Such withdrawals of foreign nationals in the past have been the prelude to international disengagement and civilian massacres, mostly notably in Rwanda. In an atypically blunt statement, the World Bank said that along with regional lenders it was "sending the message to President Gbagbo that he has lost the election and needs to step down".

However, the unusually unanimous response to the crisis cannot disguise the reality that the international community has few options if Mr Gbagbo resists financial pressure to stand down. There is little chance of military action, as the government still controls the army and most state institutions.

By contrast the internationally recognised victor, Mr Ouattara, is holed up in a hotel complex guarded by 800 peacekeepers. He is trying to set up a parallel administration, but in the meantime has encouraged the targeted squeeze on his defeated opponent, appealing to the regional bank to block the incumbent's access to state finances, making it impossible to pay the army and civil service and turning the tide against Mr Gbagbo. But broader economic sanctions affecting the cocoa industry, the backbone of the country's economy, could turn that sector against Mr Ouatarra and further deepen divisions.

The Ivory Coast only emerged from a north-south civil war in 2007, and the 28 November presidential run-off was the culmination of a massive international effort to reconcile the country.

Mr Gbagbo's supporters have denied any involvement with so-called death squads, and blamed any abductions on opposition attempts to discredit the government. However, residents in some neighbourhoods in the capital have described a return of the death squads that Mr Gbagbo used after a failed coup attempt in 2002 which prompted the last civil war. Neighbourhood watch schemes and early-warning systems are used at night to alert people when militias are on the move.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said at least 50 people have been killed and hundreds more abducted, mainly in night-time raids.

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape