|Despite mediation efforts by Mbeki, left, Cote d'Ivoire's power struggle continues [Reuters]
Cote d'Ivoire has been suspended from a regional body representing 15 West African countries after its incumbent president and the leader of the opposition both claimed victory in the country's runoff poll.
The suspension was announced on Tuesday by Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president and chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as President Laurent Gbagbo continued to ignore calls and pressure to step down following an election the UN says he lost.
Gbagbo's swearing-in on Sunday was quickly followed by that of Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader, setting the stage for both men to lay claim to the highest office in the world's leading cocoa grower and fuelling fears of renewed civil war.
"The heads of state and government recognised Mr Alassane Dramane Ouattara as president-elect of Ivory Coast," a communique announcing the suspension said.
"The summit called on Mr Laurent Gbagbo to abide by the results of the second round of the presidential elections as certified by UNOCI [the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire] and to yield power without delay."
The European Union threatened on Monday to slap targeted sanctions against individuals in Cote d'Ivoire if the country fails to quickly resolve the political crisis.
Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, stressed that UN resolutions provide for sanctions "against those who obstruct the peaceful transition and the election," said a European Commission spokeswoman.
"Catherine Ashton is ready to follow procedures which would envisage sanctions if there is no quick resolution to this crisis," Angela Filote told a news briefing.
In Paris, the French foreign ministry called on Cote d'Ivoire to find "an orderly, calm and dignified transition".
Earlier on Tuesday, Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, ended his mediation mission after failing to reach a settlement between Ouattara and Gbagbo.
Mbeki had aimed in two days of talks to defuse the power struggle, but on Monday he said only that he planned to file a report to the African Union and made a plea for a peaceful solution.
"The African Union is very keen that peace can be sustained and every effort should be made to ensure this transition to democracy succeeds," he said.
"Cote d'Ivoire needs peace and needs democracy ... We indeed hope that the leadership of this country will do all that it can to ensure peace is maintained."
The November 28 election was meant to reunite the country after a 2002-03 civil war, but the poll ended in crisis when the Constitutional Council, run by a staunch ally of Gbagbo, scrapped hundreds of thousands of votes from Ouattara strongholds.
Obama steps in
The AP news agency reported on Monday that Ouattara's spokesman said they were asking for the UN to use force and physically remove Gbagbo if he continues to cling to the office.
"President Barack Obama called to congratulate Ouattara. President Sarkozy congratulated Ouattara. Germany sent it by fax. So did England,'' Joel N'Guessan said.
"These are countries that are on the Security Council. If they cannot make this man respect the results of an election certified by the UN, then we might as well stop talking about democracy in Africa.''
At least 10 people have been killed in clashes between supporters of the rival factions over the past two weeks.
Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said: "Given the security situation in [Ivory Coast] and in accordance with standard UN procedures, non-essential staff members will be temporarily relocated to the Gambia."
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is reportedly "deeply concerned'' about the situation and the International Criminal Court's prosecutor urged Cote d'Ivoire on Monday to act now to prevent possible war crimes or crimes against humanity.
"Ivory Coast today is announcing the possible commission of future crimes,'' Luis Moreno Ocampo said, referring to Gbagbo's decision to stay in power.
"So in terms of prevention, the time to act by the state is now."
'Troops on alert'
While Gbagbo has the support of the nation's top legal body and the military, Ouattara has international backing and can count on the support of the New Forces fighters in the country's north.
"We've put our troops on alert," Seydou Ouattara, a New Forces spokesman, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.
"If we are attacked we will defend our zones and we will take the rest of the Ivorian territory," he said, insisting that he hoped diplomacy would help avoid a "bloodbath".
The crisis has also spooked Cote d'Ivoire's donors, with the World Bank and the African Development Bank saying that they would reassess aid to the country "given the breakdown in governance".
In the latest political manoeuvring, Ouattara offered government positions to members of his rival's cabinet if Gbagbo backs down.