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General strike call goes unheeded in Ivory Coast

A call for a general strike by supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized president of Ivory Coast, has failed. It was hoped the strike would help convince incumbent President Gbagbo to step down.

Smoke fills a street in Abidjan

Post-election violence has triggered fears of civil war

A call for a general strike in Ivory Coast to pressure incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo into conceding power have failed to take hold. In the country's biggest city, Abidjan, business largely went on as usual.

The general strike was called for on Sunday by supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's November presidential election.

Despite the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) all recognizing Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 election, Gbagbo continues to refuse to step down. He says the election was rigged and was part of a plot against him orchestrated by France and the United States.

The failed strike comes a day ahead of a trip to Ivory Coast by three ECOWAS leaders - the presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde - to try and personally convince Gbagbo to step down. Should their bid fail, ECOWAS has threatened to take military action.

Threat of renewed civil war

The standoff between the two presidential candidates has led to increased tension in the country, and around 200 people have already been killed in the election aftermath, according to the UN Human Rights Council.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo

Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power

The UNHRC also says at least 14,000 Ivorians have fled to neighboring Liberia, fearful of a return to the 2002-2003 civil war in Ivory Coast.

"With their numbers growing, the humanitarian needs are increasing for the mostly women and children refugees as well as for the villagers hosting them," the UNHRC said in a statement on its website over the weekend.

Gbagbo's interior minister, Emile Guirieoulou, on Sunday rejected UN allegations of widespread human rights violations in the election aftermath by Gbagbo's security forces, saying the world body was being partisan.

International pressure

In addition to the threat of military intervention from ECOWAS, international pressure on Gbagbo increased over the weekend as well.

Opposition leader Alassane Ouattara

Ouattara has called for a nationwide general strike

On Sunday, airport authorities in the Swiss city of Basel grounded a plane belonging to Gbagbo at the request of "the legitimate authorities" of Ivory Coast, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry said.

The aircraft is parked at the Basel-Mulhouse airport, which is jointly run by French and Swiss authorities.

The US and European Union previously imposed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut off his finances.

Author: Matt Zuvela, Martin Kuebler (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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