"In view of (regional body) ECOWAS' recognition of Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara as President-elect of Côte d'Ivoire and representative of the freely expressed voice of the Ivorian people as proclaimed by the Independent Electoral Commission, the members of the Security Council call on all stakeholders to respect the outcome of the election," the 15-member body said in a press statement, reiterating its support for the United Nations role in the country.
"The members of the Security Council condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort to subvert the popular will of the people or undermine either the integrity of the electoral process or the free and fair elections in Côte d'Ivoire."
The statement followed a news conference earlier today in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital, at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative Y. J. Choi said there was absolutely no doubt Mr. Ouattara had won the election, which was a major step in the efforts to reunite the world's largest cocoa exporter after it was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
But the poll generated a new crisis when the Constitutional Council threw out the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) proclamation of Mr. Ouattara as victor, citing irregularities in his northern base, and awarded the election to Mr. Gbagbo.
"The Ivorian people have chosen Mr. Alassane Ouattara with an irrefutable margin as the winner over Mr. Laurent Gbagbo," Mr. Choi stressed, underscoring the impartiality of the UN in certifying the results of the presidential run-off last month.
In its press statement, the Council, which was briefed in closed session by Mr. Choi yesterday, reiterated its readiness "to impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process, obstruct the work of the UNOCI (the UN Mission in Côte d'Ivoire) and other international actors, or commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."
It deplored the suspension of non-governmental media, recalled "the importance that all citizens of Côte d'Ivoire have full access to pluralistic and diverse information," and urged the authorities to immediately restore equitable access to State media.
Following a briefing from Mr. Choi yesterday in Abuja, Nigeria, an emergency summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) endorsed his certification of Mr. Ouattara and called on Mr. Gbagbo to yield power without delay.
Today Mr. Choi publicly rebutted Mr. Gbagbo's claims of irregularities point by point, noting that even if contested tally sheets were thrown out, it was still clear that Mr. Ouattara had won.
The complaints, used by the Constitutional Council, were based on two arguments: that the use of violence in nine departments in the north prevented people from voting, and that tally sheets there lacked the signature of the presidential camp's representatives.
On the first issue, Mr. Choi stressed that a voter participation as high as 81 per cent could not possibly mean that there was sufficient violence to prevent people from voting, while reports on violence collected by UNOCI shows there were fewer violent acts in the north than in the west.
On the second issue, he said he reviewed all tally sheets in the concerned departments and eliminated all those which lacked the signature of Mr. Gbagbo's representatives. "The upshot was that, even such an exercise did not alter in any significant way the outcome of the second round," he added. "On this basis, I remain absolutely certain that I have found the truth concerning the will of the Ivorian people as expressed on 28 November."
Mr. Choi said he used three methods "to arrive at the absolute conviction regarding the winner." First he deployed 721 UNOCI members throughout the country to find voting trends as early as possible. Secondly, he collected results from the 19 regional local electoral commissions, and these further confirmed the trends that it was almost certain who had won and who had lost.
Finally, UNOCI examined all 20,000 tally sheets to see if there was a trace of fraud or manipulation, especially if they had been signed. A certain number had to be discarded but these were not concentrated in some particular regions but were spread randomly.
Mr. Choi vouchsafed his and UNOCI's impartiality in the elections. "Impartiality is so central that, if one does not believe in my impartiality, it would not be possible to believe in the truth that I am going to tell," he said.
"I have been cited alternatively by the Government and the opposition camps as taking sides with the other party whenever UNOCI refused to side with it. I say with conviction that UNOCI has remained impartial. I present this as the evidence that I have succeeded in safeguarding my impartiality, the strength upon which I today lay the unequivocal result of the second round."
UNOCI, with a current strength of over 9,000 uniformed personnel, has been supporting reunification efforts, of which November's vote, and the first round held in October following five years of delays, was a principal step.