Tensions run high at the gates of Abidjan

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Tensions are running high in Ivory Coast, where Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president defeated in November elections is refusing to hand over power to his newly-elected rival Alassane Ouattara. A delegation of African leaders returned to the country Monday January 3rd to persuade Gbagbo to quit, amid reports they are offering him an amnesty in exchange. If he refuses, West African states have warned they will employ force to oust him. We report from a spot just outside the economic capital Abidjan, where a divided population feverishly await the next development in the crisis.

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Tensions are running high in Ivory Coast, where Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president defeated in November elections is refusing to hand over power to his newly-elected rival Alassane Ouattara (see Black Box chronology bottom of page). Philippe Duval reports from Grand Bassam, a spot just outside the economic capital Abidjan, where a divided population feverishly await the next development in the crisis.

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Grand Bassam is the former French colonial capital abandoned in 1900 after an outbreak of yellow fever. This is where, 30 kilometres from the economic capital Abidjan, women marched at the end of the 1940s to shake off the colonial yoke. This is also where, in the 1990s, a local secondary school was the scene of a revolt that soon spread to others in Abidjan, to demand the implementation of multi-party democracy.

A tumultuous city, a concentrate of all the contradictions of Ivory Coast, Grand Bassam is on edge today. On November 28th, it voted for Alassane Ouattara, and since then, the near daily run-ins with the forces of law and order have left at least two dead and numerous wounded. On the seafront is the French quarter, with its dilapidated colonial houses waiting to be officially classified as part of world national heritage, its luxury villas, its hotels, often run by French people, and visited by wealthy Ivoreans, white ex-pats, and UN officials for weekends on the beach. On the scorching sand they brush up against hoards of craftsmen come to tote their wares from all over West Africa, and battalions of‘balles perdues' (‘stray bullets', the nickname given to young prostitutes) looking for a few euros.

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Key dates to the current crisis:

August 1960: Former French colony is declared independent.

December 1993: Death of president Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

December1994: Adoption of a new electoral codel restricting eligibilty of presidential candidates.

October 1995: Election as president of Henri Konan Bédié, so-called 'natural heir' to Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

December 1999: Coup d'état during which General Robert Gueï takes power.

October 2000: Laurent Gbagbo elected president.

September 2002: Coup d'état attempt against Laurent Gbagbo. The rebels take over control of the mostly Muslim north of the country.

January 2003: Signature of the Marcoussis peace agreement, allowing rebels into government while Gbagbo retained presidency.

July 2003: Official end to the civil war.

2005: Presidential elections postponed until October 2010.

March 2007: Ouagadougou agreement for peace settlement programme.

November 2010: The postponed presidential elections are finally held. Ivorian electoral commission proclaims Alassane Ouattara the victor, with 54% of the vote (Laurent Gbagbo 46%). The Gbagbo-controlled Ivorian Constitutional Council claims a 51%-49% victory for Gbagbo, who refuses to stand down.