Abidjan — The veteran Ivorian opposition leader, Laurent Gbagbo, has been sworn in as president of Cote d'Ivoire the day after a popular uprising swept the military leader, General Robert Guei, from power and less than a week after a controversial election.
Gbagbo, a fifty-five year old history professor-turned-politician, and leader of the Ivorian Popular Front party, was the centre of attention at the investiture ceremony held at the presidential palace in Abidjan, which -- less than twenty-four hours earlier -- had been under siege by angry protestors marching in defiance of the military regime.
Wearing a dark suit and a diffident smile, an emotional Gbagbo spoke clearly, though his voice broke as he took the oath of office. His wife, Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, resplendent in a tailored top and long skirt in brilliant emerald green silk brocade, burst into tears, shaking with emotion and smiling as she wept and watched her husband.
A loud and appreciative cheer went up when the two kissed and hugged under the huge orange, yellow and green fan-shaped Ivorian flag that billowed gently above the new presidential couple.
The Gbagbos, who have seven children between them, have been together since the early 1970s when they met as young political activists.
Laurent Gbagbo thanked his fellow Ivorians for voting for him and standing by him, and for what he called their courage, when they took to the streets in their thousands on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest against General Robert Guei, who was swept from power in a popular and spontaneous uprising.
After being sworn in, Gbagbo addressed his compatriots, giving them an idea of his plans for country's future. He said his first act would be to appoint a prime minister, and then the members of the government, who would hold their first cabinet meeting on Friday at 3pm local time (and GMT).
Gbagbo pledged that his would be an administration of tolerance, solidarity, unity and democracy. In a country that has been divided by ethnic, religious and regional strife in the ten months since a coup d?etat, that was widely received as hopeful news.
"Before the sovereign people of Cote d"Ivoire, I solemnly swear on my honour, to respect and faithfully defend the constitution, to protect the rights and liberties of citizens, and conscientiously to fulfill my functions in the higher interests of the nation, Gbagbo said in his oath of office. "May the people withdraw it's trust and may I face the full rigour of the law should I betray my oath."
It was after uttering that vow that Gbagbo told an assembled audience of senior civilian and army officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and chiefs and other traditional leaders, that his government would be open to all his political rivals.
"I stretch out my hand to everyone," he said, in a gesture of reconciliation, adding that he already had plans that he will put before the former governing Democratic party (PDCI). Gbagbo indicated that he would also be talking to the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), the party led by Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister, who was disqualified from Sunday?s presidential election and has challenged the validity of the poll.
On Thursday, supporters of both Ouattara and Gbagbo clashed in different parts of Abidjan A spokesman for Ouattara said the police had earlier tried to force their way into his house, using tear gas to disperse his supporters.
Ouattara escaped to the German ambassador?s residence next door. In the surrounding streets, Gbagbo supporters hunted Ouattara loyalists who were being stripped naked, kicked and whipped. An unconfirmed number of people were reported to have been killed.
Churches and mosques were targeted in the violence, and senior representatives from both parties appeared together on television, appealing for calm, law and order. A state of emergency and curfew, already in force, were extended until Saturday, with orders for troops to be deployed all over Cote d"Ivoire until order returned to the divided nation.