Exile or sanctions, Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo told

– African nations have  promised Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo a “soft landing”  in exile, a senior U.S. official said yesterday as pressure grew  on him to concede last month’s disputed election.  

The West African state has been in turmoil since the Nov. 28  vote in which Gbagbo claimed victory with backing from the  nation’s top legal body, rejecting as fraudulent results showing  he lost by a near 8 percent margin to rival Alassane Ouattara.  

Rebels loyal to Ouattara exchanged fire with the army in  Abidjan and elsewhere on Thursday while protests in Abidjan left  at least 20 dead, raising worries of a return to all-out  conflict in a country still split after a 2002-03 civil war.  

“There is at least one African offer of a soft landing, but  it is up to him to take it,” William Fitzgerald, the State  Department official in charge of West African affairs, told  Reuters in an interview.  

He added that the United States was ready to impose travel  sanctions on Gbagbo, his inner circle and their families within  days if the crisis remains unresolved, echoing French threats. 

Laurent Gbagbo

European Union leaders on Friday also called on Ivory  Coast’s army to defect from Gbagbo to Ouattara, while Kenyan  Prime Minister Raila Odinga went further with a direct call for  African nations to oust Gbagbo by force if necessary.  

“Mr Gbagbo must be forced even if it means using military  means to get rid of him because now he is just relying on  military power, not the people’s power, to intimidate the  people,” Odinga told a news conference in Nairobi.   

“The African Union should develop teeth.”  
The Ivorian military is seen as divided, but Gbagbo’s  presidential guard, of unknown numbers, are diehard loyalists.  

Alain Toussaint, a spokesman for Gbagbo, told Reuters in  London: “The European Union call is totally irresponsible and  scandalous.” 
Cocoa exporters said most had shut down in the world’s top  supplier since Thursday. Fear of a disruption to supplies has  pushed futures prices close to four-month highs.

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