Ivory Coast's Gbagbo tells rival, don't count on foreign force

Gbagbo told his presidential rival not to expect foreign troops to install him in power by force, and repeated his call for talks to end the country's violent political stand-off.

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo tells rival, don't count on foreign force

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo told his presidential rival on Saturday not to expect foreign troops to install him in power by force, and repeated his call for talks to end the country's violent political stand-off.

Gbagbo has refused to step down as president, even though the country's electoral commission and world leaders have recognised his challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner of a November presidential election. The dispute has triggered violence in a country still divided after a 2002-3 civil war.

Three presidents from West African regional bloc ECOWAS are planning a second round of talks on Jan. 3 with Gbagbo in a bid to convince him to cede power to Ouattara. Gbagbo has shrugged off a threat by the regional body to unseat him by force.

"You should not count on foreign armies to come and make him (Ouattara) president," he said in an interview broadcast on state television on Saturday.

"I therefore extend my hand so we can talk," he said. He repeated an offer for a recount, which Ouattara's camp rejects.

Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, confined with the rest of Ouattara's government to the lagoon-side Golf Hotel under the protection of 600 U.N. troops, told reporters Gbagbo has only days in which to leave power peacefully.

The message the African neighbours were bringing "seems clear", he said. "This is the last chance for Mr. Gbagbo to get a peaceful departure from power and a guarantee of immunity."

"Force threat"

Earlier, a spokesman for Ouattara said ECOWAS must use military force soon or Gbagbo would become entrenched in power and become more difficult to remove.

"We are ready for dialogue with ECOWAS," Gbagbo's campaign manager Pascal Affi N'Guessan told Reuters by phone. "But he (Gbagbo) won't leave ... We won't negotiate on that question."

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle while the World Bank and the West African central bank have cut off his financing in an effort to weaken his grip on power.

ECOWAS defence chiefs met last week in Nigeria to work on a possible intervention plan.

Asked on Friday if he would leave in the event of an ECOWAS operation to remove him, Gbagbo told Euronews TV he would "think it over", but he added "for the moment it's not an issue."

Soro said he asked the New Forces rebels still occupying the north since the civil war not to intervene, but to support whatever force does arrive to kick out Gbagbo.

Fearing a possible march by Gbagbo supporters, U.N. riot police armed with shields and teargas did drills along the road leading to the palm-fringed hotel, where the mission's troops stand guard at sandbagged machinegun positions.

The roads have been blockaded by the Ivorian military since a shootout between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces on Dec 16. Only U.N. helicopters can get in or out, apart from the occasional supply truck.


Agencies

Last Mod: 02 Ocak 2011, 15:30
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