Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo digs in, tells UN to leave

ABIDJAN, (Reuters) – The government of Ivory Coast’s  incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo today told the United  Nations and French peacekeeping missions to leave, escalating a  dispute over last month’s elections.
Both the United Nations and the former colonial power,  France, have urged Gbagbo to concede defeat in a Nov. 28 poll,  which was meant to heal the wounds of the West African state’s  2002-03 civil war but has instead reopened them.
Spokeswoman Jacqueline Oble read a statement on state  television saying the government wanted the UNOCI and LICORNE  missions forces to leave Ivory Coast, “and is opposed to any  renewal of their mandate”.
“UNOCI has interfered seriously in the internal affairs of  Ivory Coast,” she said.
The country has been in turmoil since Gbagbo claimed victory  in the election with backing from the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional  Council, the nation’s highest legal body, rejecting as  fraudulent results showing that he had lost by nearly 8  percentage points to Alassane Ouattara.
The United Nations and almost all world leaders have  recognised Ouattara’s win and demanded that Gbagbo step down.
A U.N. Security Council diplomat told Reuters: “We’re  studying the request. The president-elect is Ouattara and he  hasn’t asked us to leave.”
A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory  Coast, Hamadoun Toure, said by telephone that it was still  preparing a response.
Last Thursday at least 20 people were killed in clashes  between pro-Ouattara marchers and security forces. Former rebels  supporting Ouattara also briefly exchanged fire with government  soldiers.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has recognised  Ouattara as the winner of the election, warned last week of the  potential for a resumption of civil war and called on all sides  to avoid triggering further violence.
The United States, France and the European Union have heaped  pressure on Gbagbo to step down, threatening sanctions if he  does not do so within days.
A top U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Friday  that Gbagbo had also been offered a ‘soft landing’ in exile in  an African country if he steps down. But a Gbagbo spokesman said  Gbagbo had no intention of leaving.
Gbagbo came to power in 2000 after a disputed election  against coup leader Robert Guei, and two years later survived a  rebellion that split the country into a rebel-held north and his  government-controlled south.
The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) includes  some 10,000 soldiers and police, and is supported by the French  LICORNE force. Hundreds of peacekeepers have been deployed to  defend Ouattara’s makeshift headquarters in Abidjan’s  lagoon-side Golf Hotel.
The leader of Gbagbo’s youth organisation, the Young  Patriots, said on Saturday he was preparing the group for a  possible march to ‘liberate’ the hotel.
“I’m organising a rally this afternoon in Yopougon to ask  the patriots to stand ready to march on the Golf Hotel to  liberate it from the rebels taking refuge there,” Charles Ble  Goude, also Gbagbo’s minister of youth and employment, told  Reuters by telephone.
The turmoil in the world’s top grower of cocoa raised cocoa  futures to four-month highs in recent weeks, though futures  prices have since eased, with second-month cocoa in New York  settling down nearly 2 percent on Friday.

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