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Ivory Coast political turmoil nearing end

April 7th, 2011

After the bloodiest episode of violence since the Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential election in November, the West African country gained a glimmer of hope as the French government said Tuesday it was negotiating the surrender of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president who has refused to give up power after legitimately losing the election four months ago to Alassane Ouattara.

Last Friday, hundreds were killed in a clash between rebels loyal to Ouattara and Gbagbo’s forces.

According to the U.N., approximately 330 fighters and civilians had been killed in a town in the west of the country, while some human rights organizations have been reporting a death toll of nearly 1,000.

It remains to be seen which side is responsible for the attack.

“We don’t have exact information as to who is behind this,” Dorothea Krimitsas, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told The New York Times. “There were at least 800 [bodies].”

Previous to the battle, it was estimated that nearly 500 people have died since the election took place in November.

Gbagbo has continually ordered assaults on the neighborhoods surrounding the presidential palace in the nation’s largest city, Abidjan.

Horrific incidents of repression, such as Gbagbo’s forces shooting at peacefully protesting women, have led to his condemnation by the international community.

Human Rights Watch said in March that the actions of “Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity.”

Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, said French officials were negotiating with generals still loyal to Gbagbo, who are hunkered down in his compound in Abidjan.

French and U.N. forces intervened Monday by attacking the compound and two other main military bases still loyal to Gbagbo. Ouattara’s forces already control the capital, Yamoussoukro. Last week, the rebels swept into the city and surrounded Gbagbo’s residence.

The negotiators have presented a U.N.–backed document to be signed by Gbagbo renouncing his presidency to Ouattara.

“What is going on are negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo and his family to finalize the conditions of his departure,” Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister said at a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.

The U.N. said earlier this week that three of Gbagbo’s top generals have told the international organization that a cease fire had been ordered to their troops, and that they were to hand over arms to the U.N. forces stationed there.

Although the U.N. has provided support in the fight against Gbagbo, they have expressed neutrality in the politics of the matter, contrary to the majority of the international community.

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon attributed U.N. intervention to the violent actions taken by Gbagbo’s forces on civilians as well as peace keepers.

As of Tuesday, reports coming from Abidjan have said fighting between pro-Ouattara forces and pro-Gbagbo forces had indeed stopped.

The several hundred French soldiers also patrolling the city have also noticed a lack of violent conflict.

Phillip Carter, the American ambassador to Ivory Coast, said the situation is “far from settled, but it’s close to being over.”

“Our forces have made significant advances. In a few hours, it will be all over,” Guillame Soro, Ouattara’s prime minister told The Times in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We came into the city of Abidjan today, and I think it will soon be finished.”

If all does proceed as predicted, what to do with Gbagbo still remains in question. A spokesman for Ouattara’s camp told The Times, “He will be judged, he must answer for his actions. Do we keep [Gbagbo] here or do we send him abroad? I don’t know.”

President Obama praised the U.N. and French intervention on Tuesday.

He went on to say the bloodshed “could have been averted had Laurent Gbagbo respected the results of last year’s presidential election.”