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Gbagbo Clinging to Power as Ouattara Forces Storm Residence

After earlier boasts from French officials that Laurent Gbagbo had resigned in Ivory Coast, the truth was more complex. In fact, Gbagbo remained hunkered down in his bunker at the presidential residence, refusing to surrender but apparently negotiating terms. The forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara could not wait any longer, so today they stormed the palace.

Forces loyal to Cote d’Ivoire’s internationally recognised leader Alassane Ouattara have stormed the residence where his rival and incumbent president is holed up, a spokesman has said.

“Yes they [Ouattara forces] are in the process of entering the residence to seize [Laurent] Gbagbo, they have not taken him yet, but they are in the process; they are in the building,” Affousy Bamba told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

Patrick Achi, another spokesman for Ouattara’s parallel government, said troops had been ordered not to kill Gbagbo.

“Alassane Ouattara has given formal instructions that Gbagbo is to be kept alive because we want to bring him to justice,” he said.

French officials and Ouattara spokesmen maintain that the resolution will come within hours, but we heard that yesterday. I’ve read more reports that he has surrendered, and certainly negotiations continue, with Gbagbo primarily concerned with his protection and that of his family. But we’re not quite done here yet. The TV station controlled by Ouattara showed the movie “Downfall” last night.

Gbagbo told French TV yesterday, recorded from the bunker, that he wanted direct talks with Ouattara aimed at a resolution. That has not yet happened. One Gbagbo loyalist claimed that France was firing on the residence, but that has not been confirmed and the French military denied it.

It does look like this will eventually end with Gbagbo surrendering, though it hasn’t yet happened. But I agree with Max Fisher that this is a new era of interventions by the Western world, and there are implications for that. I don’t totally agree on what those implications will be.

Today, the U.S. and France are leading two large-scale, primarily humanitarian interventions, both in Africa. While neither conflict — Côte d’Ivoire and Libya — has yet resolved, and while their immediate as well as long-term damage are not yet clear, in both cases the international intervention appears to have been of tremendous value for three reasons. The civilian death toll, though high in both countries, would likely have been far higher without the United Nations-approved action. Second, intervention looks like it may be able to drastically hasten what could have otherwise been far longer conflict […]

But the greatest affects of these interventions may be felt outside of Libya or Côte d’Ivoire altogether. As the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East face continued popular protests and the nascent democracies of Africa consider how honestly to conduct upcoming elections, massacre and election theft may suddenly look less attractive. For years, African “presidents” have refused to leave office after losing elections, a plan that has largely worked up until Gbagbo. Now, why try to hold power illegally if it only means leaving office in handcuffs — or a body bag — rather than gracefully? In the Middle East and beyond, autocrats may now think twice before ordering live rounds or worse fired into crowds. In Yemen, for example, President Ali Abdullah Saleh may be less willing to hold power through violence and thus more likely to leave office peacefully rather than through the civil war that may yet reemerge there.

I think that’s a charitable view that doesn’t take into account the potential negative implications. For instance, dictators can try to save themselves by acceding to Western demands on resource extraction or counter-terrorism. Or the “civilian opposition” we keep intervening on behalf of can turn out not to be so wonderful in the aftermath. It definitely feels like a new era, but we need to look at the full context.

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David Dayen

David Dayen