Laurent Gbagbo exit 'could worsen Ivory Coast crisis'

Woman in front of burnt-out UN vehicle ( 30/12/2010) UN peacekeepers have been attacked by Gbagbo loyalists

Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has said the country could face greater violence if he were to resign.

The UN says some 200 people have been killed or have disappeared in the past month - mostly supporters of his rival, Alassane Ouattara.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has told Mr Gbagbo he could be held criminally accountable for abuses.

Some of Ivory Coast's neighbours have threatened to oust Mr Gbagbo by force.

But analysts say intervention in Ivory Coast would be far more difficult than West Africa's previous operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The UK has said it would back military intervention, if sanctioned by the UN.

Mr Ouattara is holed up in a hotel in the main city, Abidjan, protected by UN peacekeepers.

Some of Mr Gbagbo's allies have threatened to storm the hotel - a threat which UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said could spark renewed civil war.

The election was intended to reunify the country which has been divided since a 2002 conflict.

France accused

Mr Ouattara was initially proclaimed the winner by Ivory Coast's election commission.

Map

But as it was doing this, the Constitutional Council cancelled the vote in parts of the north still controlled by New Forces rebels who back Mr Ouattara, and said Mr Gbagbo had won with 51% of the vote.

Both men have been sworn in as president.

During the month-long stand-off, men in uniform, often accompanied by militia or civilians, have been targeting people associated with the opposition, say UN human rights monitors.

They say 179 people have been killed in recent weeks, and more than 27 have disappeared.

But Mr Gbagbo told Euronews that his departure would not necessarily end the unrest.

"If I said I would leave office right now, who could provide an assurance that it would bring peace and that it would not bring even greater violence?" he said.

However, he said his resignation was not on the agenda "for now".

In a national New Year's address, he again refused to step down.

"I will stay where Ivorians have placed me with their votes. We will not concede," he said.

Mr Gbagbo also told Euronews he would be prepared to accept a recount, although he did not give any details of his proposals.

"We are negotiating. I ask myself why those who claim to have beaten me oppose a recount of the votes," he said.

The UN helped organise the poll and says Mr Ouattara won.

Analysts say it would be unlikely to agree to a recount.

As international pressure increases on Mr Gbagbo to step down, the EU has agreed to widen a travel ban to 59 Gbagbo allies, diplomats say.

Mr Gbagbo accuses France, which retains considerable economic interests in its former colony, of mobilising international opinion against him.

"Amongst today's great global powers, each has its own sphere of influence. When it's something to do with Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, France speaks and the rest follow," Mr Gbagbo said.

He has ordered the 9,500 UN peacekeepers to leave Ivory Coast and there have been some attacks on them by Mr Gbagbo's supporters.

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