A leading member of Ivory Coast’s former ruling party said that it might stay out of a unity government and focus on opposition-building ahead of legislative elections expected later this year.
In New York, US-based press watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on President Alassane Ouattara to investigate what it described as the harassment of journalists and the alleged killing of a reporter by his armed forces.
Ouattara won a November election but only came to power in April after a violent power struggle that culminated in French and United Nations forces backing him in fierce fighting, Reuters reports.
He has pledged a government of national unity to rebuild the cocoa-growing West African nation.
Mamadou Koulibaly, the most senior member of the FPI not in custody after Ivory Coast’s violent power struggle, did not rule out joining Ouattara’s government but said the party could play its role in reconciliation.
“Today, if we want reconciliation, a unity government is not necessarily the answer,” Koulibaly, the party’s No. 3, said on French radio RFI. “We can contribute to reconciliation by being in opposition.”
Ouattara said at his inauguration that legislative elections, the first real opposition test, would take place by the end of the year, the first time since 2000.
“The FPI is not dead. The FPI is severely weakened,” Koulibaly said.
“The legislative elections are pretty much guaranteed to be a catastrophe for us but I think that in five years, Ouattara will find a serious FPI candidate lining up against him.”
Party leader Pascal Affi N’Guessan and his deputy, Simone Gbagbo, wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to cede power, are both under arrest.
Koulibaly said the party would meet to discuss whether to join a Ouattara government, which is expected to be named this week.
Some 3,000 people were killed during the power struggle and a million more fled their homes in Abidjan alone, leaving Ouattara the tricky task of balancing reconciliation and holding those responsible for the most serious crimes.
Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of serious crimes.
“There must not be any legal revenge and the opposition must be allowed to exist,” Koulibaly said. “The priority must be the rebuilding of this republican opposition to Ouattara.”
The November 28 election was meant to cap years of peace talks and national unity government, which were put in place after a 2002-3 war divided the country.
Instead, it deepened the fault lines as Gbagbo, who draws on southern support, refused to cede power despite international isolation and months of violence only ended after international forces bombed his palace, facilitating his arrest.
During the crisis, local journalists were targeted for supporting one side or the other while international reporters were frequently attacked by Gbagbo’s supporters, who accused them of backing Ouattara.
“The abuse of journalists has been continuing unabated,” CPJ said in a statement, citing the death of journalist Lago Sylvain Gagneto who some believe was killed due to his links to Gbagbo’s party.
The group said a radio station in the largely pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of Yopougon had been torched and reporters were forced into hiding.
“President Ouattara pledged to hold to account all those under his authority responsible for abuses,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. “He must act immediately to rein in his forces and uphold the rule of law.”