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U.N. to stay in Ivory Coast despite Gbagbo demand
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — The United Nations warned against attacks on its personnel in Ivory Coast and said it would stay after the man who refuses to give up the presidency ordered thousands of peacekeepers to get out and defied a European Union deadline Sunday for stepping down.
The EU was giving Laurent Gbagbo until the end of the weekend to concede defeat or face sanctions that would include an assets freeze and a visa ban on him and his wife. The U.N. Security Council also is expected to meet Monday to discuss Ivory Coast’s political crisis.
“The trouble is, both sides are clearly preparing now for conflict, and a cornered Gbagbo shows little sense of the national tragedy unfolding through his brinkmanship,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, an independent research center in London.
In a statement read on state television Saturday, Mr. Gbagbo’s spokeswoman said 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers and another 900 French troops supporting them were to leave the volatile West African country immediately. Mr. Gbagbo accused the U.N. mission of backing his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, and arming rebels who support him.
The United Nations and the international community recognize Mr. Ouattara as the victor of last month’s presidential runoff vote. The United Nations was invited by the country itself to supervise the vote and certify the outcome following a peace accord after Ivory Coast’s 2002-03 civil war.
“UNOCI will fulfill its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on U.N. peacekeepers,” said a statement released by a spokesperson for Mr. Ban.
While the U.N. peacekeepers plan to continue their work, Mr. Gbagbo’s demand raised fears that U.N. personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence. Over the weekend, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. compound. Two military observers were wounded in a separate incident.
Fighting between security forces and Mr. Ouattara’s supporters already has left as many as 30 people dead.
International pressure is mounting on Mr. Gbagbo to give up his claim to power. The U.N. Security Council planned to discuss the situation in Ivory Coast on Monday, as well as the renewal of the UNOCI’s mandate, which is due to expire on Dec. 31.
On Saturday, the chairman of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the group supported sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo.
“We still will explore any other avenue for changing government or making Gbagbo yield power to Alassane Ouattara“, Chairman James Victor Gbeho said without further elaborating during a visit to Burkina Faso.
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