Abidjan: Ivory Coast state television disappeared from the airwaves outside the nation`s largest city late Thursday, a blow to the incumbent president`s attempts to cling to power in the bloody aftermath of an election most of the world says he lost.
Also on Thursday, the United Nations recognised incumbent Laurent Gbagbo`s challenger, Alassane Ouattara, as the winner of the November 28 runoff vote. The 192-nation UN General Assembly rescinded the credentials of Ivory Coast`s UN Ambassador Ilahiri Djedje, a Gbagbo supporter, and accepted those of Ouattara`s choice, veteran diplomat Youssouf Bamba.
The UN deputy human rights commissioner in Geneva, Kyung-wha Kang, said at least 173 people had died in violence since the election. She detailed hundreds of arrests and detentions, dozens of cases of torture and mistreatment, and said government forces were preventing investigators from looking into other reports of human-rights violations, including possible mass graves.
The state television channel controlled by incumbent Gbagbo continued to air in Abidjan, but only black and white snow appeared in at least six other cities around the West African nation just minutes before Ivorians sat down to their nightly newscast, residents said.
It was not immediately clear how the signal was cut off. Advisers to Ouattara refused to comment, but the event falls in line with a series of strategies Ouattara has been employing to try to break Gbagbo`s stranglehold on the news.
A week ago, Ouattara`s supporters unsuccessfully attempted to seize control of the channel. Ouattara has been broadcasting a private radio station that intersperses rally songs with news broadcasts from the Golf Hotel, where he has been holed up since the election. Ouattara also had said that he planned to launch his own version of state TV.
There was no immediate comment late Thursday from representatives for Gbagbo.
The UN, US, France and others have said Ouattara won the runoff vote, but Gbagbo has refused to step down. State TV ran continuous footage of Gbagbo taking the oath of office in the days after he declared victory without mentioning that his claim was heavily contested.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution late Thursday calling for an end to the violence, which has raised fears of a return to civil war. Kyung-wha told diplomats that there may be more fatalities than the ones she was able to document.
"Unfortunately it has been impossible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to restrictions on movement by UN personnel," Kyung-wha said. "Indeed, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was stopped at gunpoint as he sought to verify such allegations."
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that forces loyal to Gbagbo, supported by masked men armed with rocket launchers, were blocking the road to a village outside Abidjan "where allegations point to the existence of a mass grave”.
Kyung-wha also expressed concern about how Ivory Coast media being controlled by political allies of Gbagbo. She said state television and some private newspapers were inciting "hatred and violence" and releasing "false and inflammatory information against the United Nations”.
Amid the rising concerns over violence, the United States has said it and other countries are discussing ways to help quell the post-election violence.
"We are in discussions with other regional countries to see if there are ways in which we can reinforce the UN peacekeeping force," spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters on Wednesday. "It could be that that kind of reinforcement could be another way to send a clear message to President Gbagbo."
Crowley declined to name the countries that have been contacted but noted that Nigeria is a major troop contributor to West African peacekeeping forces. He also noted that France has interests in Ivory Coast, a former French colony where at least 13,000 French citizens reside.
A Nigerian military spokesman said on Thursday that military intervention into another country could only be decided by the president, and a presidential spokesman could not be reached for comment. The regional bloc ECOWAS is due to hold a meeting on the crisis late Friday.
There has been little international interest so far in a military intervention in Ivory Coast, which suffered a 2002-2003 civil war. The United States and the European Union are imposing sanctions targeting Gbagbo, his wife and political allies. Hundreds of UN peacekeepers have been protecting the hotel where Ouattara is based.