Coup Leader Tightens Control Over Ivory Coast

From the Washington Post

The military coup d’etat in Ivory Coast appeared to solidify Saturday as the elected president abandoned pleas for public resistance and instead made preparations to flee the West African nation for France.

President Henri Konan Bedie, who was deposed Friday by a former army chief of staff, spent Christmas Day at a French military base near Abidjan’s Houphouet-Boigny International Airport, named for the founding president who ushered Bedie to power in 1993. Bedie was said to be flying soon to a French refuge.

“If you had a country and all you do is loot the country, this is what happens,” said Gen. Robert Guei, the self-appointed president of the freshly formed, all-military National Committee of Public Salvation.


Abidjan remained tense, its streets deserted but for soldiers looting stores and driving around in stolen cars. France, which has 550 troops stationed in the country, sent reinforcements to protect its nationals in the former colony.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Americans were being advised to remain indoors even during daylight hours, and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised British nationals via the BBC to “keep their heads well down.”

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed for a second night.

Guei, who announced the coup on state television Friday, appeared in a flurry of broadcasts Saturday vowing to restore order and democracy. The nine-man junta ordered back to barracks the soldiers whose mutiny over back pay and privileges sparked the takeover but who have spent much of the last three days looting shops in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Guei also spoke with foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, and repeated in private a public promise to restore democracy a day after he suspended the country’s constitution, parliament and courts.

Denying that the takeover was a coup, Guei told a news conference that the junta acted to sweep aside a ruler who had squelched opposition and looted public coffers. Guei vowed “to create the necessary conditions for a real democracy with a view to holding fair and transparent elections.” Guei did not commit, however, to abide by the previous schedule for presidential elections in October.

The coup was denounced by an array of Western and African countries. The State Department issued a condemnation, but officials privately repeated the assurances of the new military rulers for a swift return to democracy.


Ivory Coast, with 16 million people, has been a bastion of relative stability in West Africa. It is a region where a depressing litany of smaller countries have been torn apart by gruesome wars and where the largest and richest country by far, Nigeria, only this year found its way back to civilian rule.

In such company, peaceful, relatively prosperous Ivory Coast had stood apart. It is a transportation hub and preferred base for foreign companies doing business in the region.

“We don’t want to see that country lose that aura,” a State Department official said. “I think it would have a very negative effect, not only on 1/8Ivory Coast 3/8 but also on the region.”