The Washington Post

Ivory Coast conflict: Who are Gbagbo and Ouattara?

In October 2000, Ivory Coast's then-newly inaugurated President Laurent Gbagbo, right, shared a laugh with his key political rival, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara. Ten years later, a presidential runoff between the men sparked a still-unsettled violent crisis that has left hundreds dead. (JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

From the Washington Post: “In Ivory Coast, a nation of 22 million that was once the most prosperous in West Africa, Laurent Gbagbo has for four months violently contested his loss of a presidential election, at the expense of at least 400 lives and as many as 1 million refugees.”

Gbagbo may be ousted soon, though. Ouattara and his supporters have overrun almost 80 percent of Ivory Coast, according to the Associated Press. And the regular army has put up “almost no resistance” during a four-day offensive this week, launched by supporters of the man who won the election

U.N. peacekeepers have gotten involved too, securing the airport in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and a fierce standoff could be in Ivory Coast’s future once Ouattara supporters reach the presidential palace.

As the world waits for a resolution to the enduring conflict, here’s a quick rundown on both men.

Laurent Gbagbo

Pro-Gbagbo Ivorians gather at the Culture Palace of Abidjan to pray for victory and peace. (JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

He received a PhD in history in Paris Diderot University. Soon after his return to Ivory Coast, Gbagbo became a vocal opponent of the country’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and he was jailed in the early 1970s for “subversive” teaching. He also spent six years in French exile during the 1980s.

Later in that decade, he led the fight for multi-party democracy and helped form the Ivorian Popular Front. Two years after becoming president in 2000, a civil war broke out in Ivory Coast between the mostly Muslim, rebel-controlled north and the government-controlled south. A 2007 peace deal brought rebels into Gbagbo’s administration.

Gbagbo’s wife Simone, is also a politician. The couple has two daughters.

Alassane Ouattara

A national police officer stands guard during a rally by Charles Ble Goude, leader of the pro-Gbagbo youth wing "Young Patriot.” (THIERRY GOUEGNON/REUTERS)

In the resulting power struggle, Henri Konan Bedie, then President of the National Assembly, won out over Ouattara to become president.

To keep Ouattara from another campaign, the National Assembly passed in 1995 a law forbidding candidates with foreign-born parents from running for office in Ivory Coast. (Ouattara’s father has roots in Burkina Faso.) He became leader of an opposition party, the Rally of the Republicans, in 1999, and in the same year, provided documentation that both of his parents were born in Ivory Coast. He was accused of forgery and was disqualified from running in the 2000 election.

In 2007, Gbagbo cleared Ouattara to stand in the next election, after which both men would claim they won and take two separate oaths of office.

Read the latest report from Ivory Coast and see the newest photos from the conflict..

Anti-Gbagbo protesters hold a placard during a demonstration in Abobo. (LUC GNAGO/REUTERS)

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