, ABIDJAN, Dec 5 – Two men crowned themselves president in Ivory Coast\’s bloody election dispute as Laurent Gbagbo defied international calls for him to cede power.
As Gbagbo\’s allies hung the chain of office around his neck at a ceremony, ex-prime minister Alassane Ouattara, backed as election winner by the United Nations, swore himself in as president in a handwritten letter.
The bizarre standoff unfolded amid reports of more deadly violence and urgent calls from world powers for a peaceful resolution to the disputed election, meant to end a decade of conflict in the west African country.
UN-certified results from last Sunday\’s run-off vote showed Ouattara as the winner, but Gbagbo\’s high court allies overturned them by annulling allegedly rigged ballots in parts of the north, his rival\’s stronghold.
The United Nations, the European Union and others have recognised Ouattara as Ivory Coast\’s new president.
The African Union on Saturday also recognised the Independent Electoral Commission result that gave him victory, condemning any attempt to seize power by a "fait accompli".
But the incumbent Gbagbo refused to step aside and told outsiders to mind their own business.
"In recent days I have noted serious cases of interference," he said in a speech at the presidential headquarters after being sworn in by his allies before a roomful of whooping, clapping supporters.
"I am charged with defending our sovereignty and I will not negotiate on that," he said. "I wish various people would pull themselves together."
Ouattara countered by signing a handwritten oath of office and sending it in his "capacity as president" to the Constitutional Council, the court authorised to certify election results.
"The exceptional circumstances Ivory Coast is undergoing at the moment do not permit me to swear the oath in person before the Constitutional Council," he wrote. "That is why I have the honour of sending you my written oath."
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, leader of the New Forces movement that controls the north, offered his resignation to Ouattara who immediately re-appointed him to the post, in front of reporters.
Hours after Gbagbo was sworn back into office, an African Union statement rejected "any attempt to create a fait accompli to undermine the electoral process and the will of the people…"
Such a move would further complicate "an already serious situation" and plunge the country into "a crisis of incalculable consequences," it warned.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his "deep concern" at the "continuing stand off" in a fresh statement Saturday.
This, he said, was "in spite of the transparent and credible outcome of the presidential run-off elections announced by the Independent Electoral Commission on 2 December 2010."
West African bloc ECOWAS also condemned Gbagbo\’s swearing-in and said regional leaders planned to meet in a special summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Tuesday to decide on what action to take.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged Ivory Coast authorities to respect the election results and congratulated opposition leader Ouattara for his "victory".
Deadly violence has left at least 17 people dead since last week in the fiercely-fought election.
The US State Department warned Americans Saturday to avoid travel to the Ivory Coast, warning of an "increased probability of political unrest and potential violence."
"The Department of State recommends that US citizens avoid any travel to Cote d\’Ivoire at this time," it said, using the French name for the west African country.
It said airports and borders were closed "amid rising tension in the aftermath of the second round of presidential elections."
"US citizens currently in Cote d\’Ivoire are advised to limit their movements and exercise extreme caution," it said.
The military has sealed the country\’s borders and jammed foreign news broadcasts, but a curfew in Abidjan failed to prevent a deadly shooting overnight, residents told AFP.
After a nightly curfew passed, angry young Ouattara supporters hit the streets of Abidjan for a second day on Saturday, setting fire to tyres that sent thick black smoke into the sky.
Soldiers were deployed on foot and in vehicles with mounted guns in Abidjan, while armoured vehicles from the UN peacekeeping force in the country guarded the hotel housing Ouattara\’s campaign base, where Soro also spoke to reporters.
Gbagbo\’s supporters in recent days have fanned the embers of lingering resentment against foreign interference, notably against the country\’s former colonial ruler France, with some yelling anti-white slogans in the streets.