- Associated Press - Sunday, January 2, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Some people yell “U.N. out!” as the Jordanian U.N. peacekeepers pass by in their armored personnel carriers, but these soldiers don’t understand French. One man honks his horn before dragging his thumb across his throat in a gesture that cannot be misunderstood.

The United Nations declared Alassane Ouattara the winner of Ivory Coast’s long-delayed presidential vote, but incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step aside now for more than a month. Mr. Gbagbo accuses the United Nations of failing to remain neutral, and the United Nations has ignored his demand for thousands of peacekeepers leave.

Now, peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Abidjan are coming under growing threat — one was wounded with a machete this week when a crowd in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood attacked a convoy and set a U.N. vehicle on fire. The next day, a U.N. patrol was fired upon from a nearby building as an angry crowd surrounded them. They were forced to fire into the air to disperse the crowd, a U.N. statement said.

Mr. Gbagbo accused those peacekeepers of firing on the crowd and reiterated his call for the U.N. mission to leave during a Saturday-evening address on state television.

The United Nations denies having fired on the crowd.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo smiles during an exclusive interview at his residence in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo smiles during an exclusive interview at his ... more >

“Any attack against peacekeepers constitutes a crime under international law, for which the perpetrators and those who instigate them will be held accountable,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned, a U.N. spokesman said.

Ivory Coast is at war,” Ouattara Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said Saturday before calling on the international community to intervene with “legitimate force.”

West African leaders from ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States — are due to arrive Monday in Abidjan to negotiate Mr. Gbagbo’s departure. They will be joined by African Union emissary Raila Odinga, the Kenyan prime minister who was widely believed to have won the presidential election in his country in 2007 but in the end settled for a power-sharing deal with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki.

ECOWAS threatened to use military force to remove Mr. Gbagbo if he doesn’t leave freely, but it failed to persuade him to go into exile when its first delegation came to Ivory Coast on Monday.

State television has begun broadcasting short films with images of the country’s 2002-03 civil war played over patriotic music. The films inevitably end with images of the new enemy: the United Nations. While state TV has been jammed across the country and can be seen only in Abidjan, the message seems to have reached residents here.

The United Nations was invited to certify the election results in Ivory Coast as part of a peace agreement signed by all parties after the civil war divided the country in two.

The United Nations endorsed the findings of the country’s electoral commission, but the constitutional council subsequently declared Mr. Gbagbo president after throwing out more than half a million votes from Ouattara strongholds. The council cited violence and intimidation toward Gbagbo supporters that invalidated the results. The top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast has disputed that assessment.

But while Mr. Ouattara has been internationally recognized as the winner of the presidency, Ivory Coast itself remains divided between supporters of each candidate along lines that are religious, ethnic and geographic.

Mr. Ouattara, a Muslim from the north, is supported by the rebels who took up arms in 2002 to fight for equal rights. Mr. Gbagbo, a Christian from the south, is supported by the army and the state bureaucracy in the south.

“We are on the brink of genocide,” said Ivory Coast’s new U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, who is aligned with Mr. Ouattara.

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