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Africa
Pressure mounts on Cote d'Ivoire
UN warns against violence as France threatens sanctions if incumbent Laurent Gbagbo does not surrender power by weekend.
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2010 21:28 GMT
The United Nations warned against any attempts to stop its operation in Cote d'Ivoire [EPA]

The United Nations has warned that any attempts to obstruct its operations in Cote d'Ivoire will be "totally unacceptable" and such attempts would be considered as attacks on the international community.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, said that people responsible for the loss of civilian lives will be held accountable as the country takes "a dangerous turn".

Ban also called on Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent leader, to step aside for rival Alassane Ouattara, whose election victory has been endorsed by the international community.

The UN's warning  came as Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, issued a weekend deadline for Gbagbo to surrender his presidential post or face international sanctions.

'Scandalous' defiance

Sarkozy denounced Gbagbo's defiance as scandalous at a news conference at the end of a European Union summit.

"There is no other option for Mr Gbagbo but to rapidly leave a position of power that he is usurping," said Sarkozy.

"Laurent Gbagbo and his wife have their fate in their hands. If Laurent Gbagbo has not quit before the end of the week, the post he holds in violation of the will of the Ivorian people, they will be put on the sanctions list by name."

Gbagbo is locked in a power struggle with Ouattara as both claim victory in a November 28 election that was meant to reunite the world's top cocoa grower after a 2002-03 civil war, but has instead deepened divisions.

Ouattara, a former prime minister, is widely recognised abroad as having won the election legitimately. 

Sarkozy slammed Gbagbo's stand and suggested he could even end up being pursued by the International Criminal Court.

"It's up to Mr Gbagbo to decide the image he wants to leave leave in history. Does he want to leave the image of a man of peace? There's still time but time is passing and he must go," said Sarkozy.

"Or does he want to leave the image of someone who allowed totally innocent civilians to be shot? In that case, there are international jurisdictions such as the [International] Criminal Court where the prosecutor himself says he is watching the situation very closely and that those who ordered the firing will be called to account."

Exile offer

The United States has said it is ready to impose travel sanctions on Gbagbo, his inner circle and their families within days, while at least one African nation is said to have offered him exile.

The UN and France want Cote d'Ivoire's presidential rivals to resolve the issue without more violence [Reuters]

"There is at least one African offer of a soft landing, but it is up to him to take it," William Fitzgerald, the US state department official in charge of West African affairs, told the Reuters news agency.

But Al Jazeera's Ama Boateng, reporting from Abidjan, said that Gbagbo has "heard these threats before."

"We've heard them from the African Union, we've heard them from the United Nations, we've heard them from pretty much every international voice," Boateng said. "And so far, that has had very, very little effect."

She also reported that Jean Ping, the African Union commission chair, is in Abidjan, meeting with Gbagbo, Ouattara and other diplomats in an attempt to make some progress in the deadlock. But there is little reason for optimism at this point.

"After all, the African Union sent somebody else, former South African President Thabo Mbeki here, and he left after two days with little success."

'Going nowhere'

A spokesman for Gbagbo told the Reuters news agency that the presidential claimant would not step down after being handed the run-off victory after the constitutional council annulled hundreds of thousands of votes in pro-Ouattara areas.

"President Gbagbo is going nowhere. He was elected for five years and he will only leave power in 2015," Alain Toussaint said in London.

"France, the United States, the EU want to carry out a plot, a constitutional coup d'etat, and we say 'No' ... we can't allow foreign governments to interfere in our affairs."

Al Jazeera's Boateng said Ouattara's supporters had vowed to march out on Friday night and take control of the state broadcaster's headquarters, replacing its current chief.

But the call to go to the streets appeared to go unheeded after failed attempt on Thursday to do the same thing left at least 30 people dead. 

"It seems ... that something is moving forward, that maybe it is better to wait it out than be killed on the streets," Patrick Achi, an Ouattara spokesman spokesman, said. "It is too much bloodshed."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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