African leaders call on Gbagbo to step down

U.N. says foe won presidential election

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | The top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast has told the Security Council that there was “only one winner” of the recent presidential election — and it’s not the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

Speaking via video link from Abidjan on Tuesday, envoy Choi Young-jin urged the United Nations to take action against Mr. Gbagbo to safeguard the result of the vote, on the same day that a regional bloc of 15 countries in West Africa suspended Ivory Coast’s membership and warned Mr. Gbagbo to yield power immediately to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

The continuing uncertainty over what will happen next in Ivory Coast led hundreds of people to flee the West African country, and the U.N. also began evacuating some 500 staffers. The U.N. has said that Mr. Gbagbo’s opponent, Alassane Ouattara, won the vote.

Mr. Gbagbo has turned his back on international opinion and defiantly went ahead Tuesday with the naming of his Cabinet at a ceremony in the presidential palace, making clear he intends to rule regardless of what most of the world says.

Across town in an aging hotel, the man considered by the U.N., U.S. and other regional powers to be the rightful winner of the race held his own Cabinet meeting, minus the pomp.

Supporters wave to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from inside the Golf Hotel as he talks on a cell phone after making a declaration to the press in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Wednesday. Choi Young-jin, the top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast, said Wednesday that Mr. Ouattara had won the disputed presidential election by an "irrefutable margin" as the international community stepped up pressure on incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to concede defeat. (Associated Press)

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Supporters wave to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from inside the Golf Hotel ... more >

Alassane Ouattara, a soft-spoken economist who spent years at the International Monetary Fund, is being waited on by the hotel’s staff and is guarded by U.N. peacekeepers. They have rolled out more than a mile of coiled razor wire to surround the Golf Hotel, and his prime minister has told foreign diplomats that they need further military reinforcements because they do not feel safe.

It is unclear what the international community can do if Mr. Gbagbo refuses to step down. If he does not go voluntarily, removing Mr. Gabgbo would require a military intervention since he appears to have the backing of his own army.

He also controls the apparatus of state, including access to the glass-walled palace that is the seat of government, a fact he made clear as he zoomed in past the palace’s shooting fountains in the presidential limousine, and then walked up the red carpet to oversee the installation of his government.

In his briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Choi recalled how the country’s electoral commission last week declared Mr. Ouattara the winner of the election, with 54 percent of the vote. That result was immediately overturned by the constitutional council, headed by a close adviser to Mr. Gbagbo, who threw out the votes from Mr. Ouattara’s strongholds.

Although the constitution gives the council the final say over the vote, Mr. Gbagbo signed an accord following the country’s civil war agreeing that the U.N. would certify the results.

Since the U.N. declared Mr. Ouattara the winner, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp has refused to accept the U.N.’s authority over the vote — a debate that is also taking place within the Security Council where Russia was the only one of the 15 council members that objected, questioning whether the U.N. should be in the business of certifying elections.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said there is a danger that the Security Council would look impotent if it could not agree to support the mandate it gave Mr. Choi. She said she was hopeful they would speak with one voice soon.

“This is an important moment for the Security Council,” Ms. Rice told reporters. “The results are known. The facts are clear. And they need to be acknowledged and respected. That’s the position of the United States.”

Once considered an African success story, Ivory Coast’s economy was destroyed by the civil war that broke out in 2002.

Mr. Gbagbo, who already was president when the war broke out, failed to hold elections in 2005 when his term expired because armed rebels still controlled the northern half of the country. The country remained in political deadlock, with repeated outbursts of fighting, until 2007, when a deal was signed by all the parties paving the way for the election.

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