Gbagbo is under increasing pressure to step down after the UN and AU endorsed the victory of the opposition [EPA]

The African Union has suspended Ivory Coast after Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president, failed to heed internationals calls to respect election results that handed victory to his rival.

"The decision which was taken was to suspend Cote d'Ivoire from participating in the activities of the African Union until the democratically elected president Alassane Ouattara takes power," Ramtane Lamamara, the AU Peace and Security Commissioner told reporters.

The 53-nation bloc's decision came after a meeting at its Addis Ababa headquarters over the Ivory Coast crisis and the situation in Guinea, which also held elections last month.

Meanwhile, in a press conference on Thursday, Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, said that "the era of stealing African elections is over".

Carson said that while "the US had no plans to engage or intervene militarily ... it would take steps against Gbagbo, his family and associates, including travel bans and sanctions, if he refused to step down.

Carson said that the Ivorian people "seek democracy, stability, development and economic opportunity. They don’t seek a continued contestation over an election" where there is  “substantial and undisputed evidence showing that Alassane Ouattara won".

This should be an example for all of Africa that this can no longer be tolerated."

UN backing

On Wednesday, the UN security council backed Alassane Ouattara as the winner of Cote d'Ivoire's disputed presidential election after days of deliberation, further undermining the legitimacy of Laurent Gbabgo's bid to cling to power.

The statement came after Gbagbo, the incumbent, was sworn in for a new term despite losing the election by almost 10 points.

Cote d'Ivoire's constitutional council had overturned Ouattara's win, saying that election fraud in areas that supported him rendered the result invalid.

Observers in Cote d'Ivoire say that there were no serious irregularities with the vote, but Gbagbo has refused to hand over power despite pressure from the United States, the European Union and the West African ECOWAS regional bloc.

Ouattara is operating a parallel administration from a hotel, and both men have appointed cabinets, prompting fears that the country's delicate security situation could unravel. 

After considering the matter for days, the Security Council issued a statement calling "on all stakeholders to respect the outcome of the election."

The statement did not mention Gbagbo by name, but condemned "in the strongest possible terms any attempt to subvert the popular will of the people."

There have been fears that Cote d'Ivoire could slip back into conflict due the standoff between the two camps, whose supporters broadly fall along the same lines as the two sides that fought each other in the civil war.

Source: Agencies