- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | For now at least, West Africa’s military option to solve the political crisis in Ivory Coast is on hold.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had vowed to use force to wrest Laurent Gbagbo from the presidential palace if he did not agree on Tuesday to step aside for the internationally recognized winner of last month’s elections.

The presidents of Sierra Leone, Benin and Cape Verde delivered the ultimatum on ECOWAS’ behalf, hoping to escort Mr. Gbagbo into exile. He refused to budge.

The delegation reported Wednesday on its mission to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, whose country is the biggest player in ECOWAS. Instead of ordering a military strike on Wednesday, the group blinked and gave Mr. Gbagbo more time, though defense officials from member states were meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

“Whenever there is a dispute, whenever there is disagreement, it is dialogue that will solve issues,” Mr. Jonathan said in Abuja, where ECOWAS is based. “The dialogue is on. They are encouraging us to go back.”

Mr. Jonathan said the delegation would return to Abidjan on Monday.

The United Nations declared Mr. Gbagbo the loser of the presidential runoff vote held on Nov. 28. Chaos in his country already has kept him in power five years beyond his mandate.

The U.N., which was tasked with certifying the results of the election; the United States; and other world powers have insisted that Mr. Gbagbo hand over power to Alassane Ouattara.

A lawyer representing Mr. Gbagbo told AP Television News on Wednesday that the incumbent might agree to power-sharing, saying a previous coalition government with Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader, shows Mr. Gbagbo can compromise.

“He has already shown that he is willing,” attorney Aref Mohamed Aref said.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that power-sharing is not on the table and Mr. Gbagbo must leave.

“Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law,” Mr. Ban said. “There was a clear winner. There is no other option.”

ECOWAS has sent combat troops to several nations in the past two decades. ECOWAS defense chiefs met on Wednesday at the Nigeria defense headquarters. A soldier at the headquarters said the meeting was closed to the press.

Other African nations have opted for coalition governments in the wake of contested elections that degenerated into violence. Those coalitions met with varying degrees of success.

Ivory Coast, however, is unique in that the United Nations was allowed to certify the election results as part of a peace agreement that ended the 2002-03 civil war.

In Kenya, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga agreed to a coalition government after election violence following the December 2007 vote left more than 1,000 people dead. Mr. Kibaki serves as president and Mr. Odinga is the country’s prime minister.

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe and longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to a power-sharing deal following the disputed 2008 election, although deep divisions have persisted.

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