Abidjan: United Nations peacekeepers laid sandbags and rolled out miles (kilometers) of razor wire Monday to protect the aging hotel that has become the de facto presidency of the man who most of the world says won Ivory Coast`s presidential election.
A U.N. tank also took position on one side of the lagoon-facing hotel and armored personnel carriers were strategically guarding the parking lot as Alassane Ouattara held his first cabinet meeting inside a hotel room. Across town in the real presidential palace, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo continued to defy calls from the United States, France and the European Union to step down.
At the same time, the U.N. said it is moving nonessential staff out of Ivory Coast to other countries in the region as a precautionary measure.
Last week, the United Nations certified the election results confirming that Ouattara had won, and his victory has been recognized by numerous world powers including the United States and France. But that didn`t stop Gbagbo from going ahead with a shotgun inauguration over the weekend, where he warned foreign powers not to interfere.
Ouattara`s advisers gathered by the hotel`s pool and in the lobby Monday, sitting in lounge chairs between potted palm trees. Joel N`Guessan, his spokesman, said they are asking for the U.N. to use force and physically remove Gbagbo if he continues to cling to the office.
"President Barack Obama called to congratulate Ouattara. President Sarkozy congratulated Ouattara. Germany sent it by fax. So did England," N`Guessan said. "These are countries that are on the Security Council. If they cannot make this man respect the results of an election certified by the U.N., then we might as well stop talking about democracy in Africa."
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "deeply concerned" about the situation in the Ivory Coast, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said Monday. Ban has been in contact with many world leaders about the situation, and is consulting with former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is serving as an international mediator in Ivory Coast, the spokesman said.
Nick Birnback, spokesman for U.N. peacekeeping at U.N. headquarters in New York, said the decision to relocate nonessential staff did not signal a U.N. evacuation.
"In fact," he said, "the uniformed services have increased their services in recent weeks to ensure they can perform the tasks they have been assigned in this difficult security environment."
Gbagbo, who came to power a decade ago and has stayed on as president five years after his legal term expired, has clamped down on TV and radio, yanking foreign channels off the air. State television is broadcasting continuous loops showing his inauguration ceremony, and many people in the capital are not even aware that most of the world as well as the country`s electoral commission believes Ouattara to be the race`s legal winner.