African leaders backed an arms embargo and other immediate U.N. sanctions against Ivory Coast on Sunday, isolating President Laurent Gbagbo’s hard-line government even further in its deadly confrontation with its former colonial ruler, France.
As a French-led evacuation of Ivory Coast builds to one of Africa’s largest, French President Jacques Chirac denounced President Laurent Gbagbo’s “questionable regime” — and said France would not tolerate much more.
“We do not want to allow a system to develop that would lead only to anarchy or a regime of a fascist nature,” Chirac told an audience in the southern French city of Marseille.
Presidents from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo and Gabon, meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, on Sunday backed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an arms embargo, a travel ban and asset freezes against anyone blocking peace in Ivory Coast.
The arms embargo “should be immediate,” Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo — the current African Union chairman — told journalists after the meeting at the presidential wing of Abuja’s airport. The call gives African approval to a tough stand in Monday’s expected Security Council vote on the sanctions.
Gbagbo’s representative at the talks, parliamentary leader Mamadou Koulibaly, condemned the call for sanctions, and complained African leaders had slighted him — barring him from most of the talks, and dinner.
No other African leaders “are capable of resolving our problems with France,” Koulibaly said.
One of his aides, speaking on condition he not be identified, warned that that other countries should “come and collect their foreigners from Ivory Coast — because if there’s an embargo we can’t live with them anymore.”
In Abidjan, French civilians and other foreigners sprawled Sunday on camp beds set up in the airport departure lounge, their cats and dogs lined up in pet cages on the tarmac just outside — all waiting for loading onto an Air France jumbo jet for the latest in five days of evacuation flights.
A handful of heavily armed U.S. Marines stood ready to assist French troops.
The Netherlands’ ambassador to the Ivory Coast and three staff members were evacuated and the Dutch Embassy closed, the Dutch foreign ministry said Sunday, adding that all Dutch citizens had been advised to leave and about 20 remain “of their own free will.”
France’s heavy criticism, and African mediation efforts, come after a five-day spate of anti-foreigner rampages last week that have sent Westerners and Africans fleeing a nation — the world’s top cocoa producer — that once was stable and prosperous, and the pride of France’s former West African empire.
Ivory Coast’s latest crisis began when Gbagbo’s military broke a more than year-old cease-fire in the country’s 2-year-old civil war with airstrikes on the rebel-held north.
Warplanes bombed a French peacekeeping post in the north on Nov. 6, killing nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker and plunging the country into chaos.
France wiped out Ivory Coast’s newly built-up small air force on the tarmac. The retaliation unleashed a violent loyalist uprising, with Gbagbo-allied Young Patriots popular militia leading looting, burning and attacks that targeted the French.
No deaths have been reported among French or other non-African foreigners targeted by the militia. France says attackers raped several expatriates.
The Associated Press and hospitals confirmed at least 17 deaths in the rioting, all or most among Ivorians.
Gbagbo’s government claims 62 of its supporters were killed, many of them when French forces opened fire on anti-French demonstrations in Abidjan.
On Sunday, a few score Young Patriots manned roadblocks around Gbagbo’s lagoon-side mansion and maintained a vigil outside nearby state broadcasting offices.
Fearing an overthrow attempt by France, the Gbagbo-allied militia have called for a “human shield” around the two sites until French troops leave Ivory Coast.
Chirac said Sunday in Marseille the 4,000 French peacekeepers would remain, alongside a more than 6,000-man U.N. peace force.
Gbagbo late Saturday put hard-liner Col. Maj. Philippe Mangou in charge of the country’s military, in a move likely to anger both France and much of Gbagbo’s own army.
It was Mangou who oversaw the air campaign that reopened Ivory Coast’s civil war and opened the confrontation with France.
Gbagbo fired a popular moderate, Gen. Mathias Doue, from the top job — risking angering much of his army.
Further challenging France, Gbagbo told France-Inter radio he would buy new warplanes.
“Do you think I’m going to leave my country without defense?” he asked. “If the French army destroys them, I’ll buy it again a third time.”
Gbagbo came to power amid street protests by the Young Patriots, after an aborted vote count in a 2000 election called to restore civilian government following a 1999 military coup, the country’s first-ever takeover.
Most of the more than 4,000 Westerners who have left by Sunday are French, but they also include hundreds of British, American, Spanish, Dutch, Lebanese and other nationals. Private companies have evacuated an additional 470 of their employees.