The government of the Ivory Coast today granted political asylum to dethroned emperor Bokassa of the former Central African Empire, in what was announced as "an act of Christian charity."
A grave-looking Ivorian President Felix Houphouet-Boigny looked on while the announcement was made this afternoon from the presidential palace. Returning this past weekend from a two-month vacation in Europe, Houphouet-Boigny reportedly conferred late into the night on Sunday with leaders of the Ivory Coast's only political party, the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast.
In announcing the decisionto protect Bokassa, the party was joined by legislators, Cabinet members, top Army officials and religious leaders; The country's only labor union and major women's associations also joined the debate.
Bokassa arrived here this morning from France, where he fled after being overthrown Thursday night in a bloodless coup. There are unconfirmed reports that he traveled by French military plane. With him were two aides.
The former emperor's arrival is not expected to cause any protest in this politically placid country. The sheltering of Bokassa would be in keeping with Ivorian tradition.
In 1970, the Ivory Coast gave refuge to former president Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta when he was set free after being overthrown and jailed for embezzlement of public funds.
More recently, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led Biafra's secession from and three-year war against Nigeria, was granted asylum here and now is a prosperous businessman.
The price of political asylum here is silence on the events that led to the refugees' flight and political developments back home. The political refugees are forbidden to hold press conferences, give interviews or otherwise make themselves heard,
"It's Houphouet's way of keeping all doors open," a political observer here noted.
The official announcement said that after "long deliberation" and examination of Bokassa's situation it was decided that taking him in was "an act of human charity" that the country could not escape, especially in light of the "anguished call and sobs" of the fallen empress, Catherine, Bokassa's wife. Her whereabouts were not reported.
Sheltering Bokassa, alleged murderer of schoolchildren who balked at his autocratic behavior, conforms to the African tradition of hospitality in this country, which "has always respected the life of man," the communique went on.
"We have not judged the deeds of our unhappy guest.That is left to God," the officials said.
One political commentator here said that Bokassa has "always considered Houphouet-Boigny a father" and that the older man and fellow head of a French-speaking African nation had a "kind of moral obligation to take him in."
Bokassa, who served 23 years in the French Army and was decorated for service in Vietnam, was Army chief of staff in his country, the former French colony of Ubangi, when he overthrew his cousin, David Dacko, 13 years ago.
Dacko returned the favor, ending Bokassa's reign Thursday night.