Ivorian leader handed ultimatum


West African regional bloc tells Laurent Gbagbo he must stand down as president or expect to face “legitimate force”

The army’s support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons he has been able to defy calls to step down [EPA]

Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d’Ivoire’s incumbent president, has been told he must stand down or face “legitimate force” by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) following last month’s disputed presidential election.
The 15-nation body said on Friday that it would convene a meeting of the countries’ defence chiefs of staff to plan for potential action, should Gbagbo not back down.
ECOWAS, which made the statement following a summit held in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, said it would also send a special envoy to Cote d’Ivoire.
Cote d’Ivoire is locked in an election standoff in which 200 people have been killed after Gbagbo claimed victory in the presidential election on November 28 which the UN and many foreign governments say was won by rival Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara said on Friday that he had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate post-election violence in the country.
“Indeed, violence has resurfaced in our cities and our neighbourhoods. During the curfew, people were abducted and executed by elements of the Republican Guard … backed by mercenaries and foreign militia,” Ouattara said in a statement.

“In view of the seriousness of the facts, I asked the International Criminal Court to send a mission to our country in the coming days,” he said.

Officials at the Hague-based court were not immediately available for comment.

Funds frozen

Earlier on Friday, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) cut off access to state funds for the Gbagbo government.

The bank made the decision in an emergency session, later saying that only representatives of Ouattara would have signing privileges on state accounts.

The move by the bank, which regroups the treasuries of eight West African countries, is expected to increase pressure on Gbagbo and complicate his efforts to pay civil servants and soldiers.

Allies of Ouattara hope the move will set the stage for mass defections if people do not get paid.

There has been much speculation in recent days as to whether Gbagbo would be able to pay state salaries, despite nightly assurances on television that payments would be available before Christmas.

On Thursday morning, several banks in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, had posted notices in their windows saying that they would not be cashing civil servant pay cheques because they had not received a guarantee from the government that they would be reimbursed.

Lines of civil servants formed outside the banks, but hours later the notices were removed and people started receiving their money.

UN recognition

On Thursday, the UN general assembly formally recognised Ouattara as the winner of the presidential election.

The UN says dozens of people have been killed in post-election violence [Al Jazeera]

The 192-nation body unanimously accepted a resolution recognising Youssouf Bamba, Ouattara’s selection of ambassador to the UN, as the sole representative for Cote d’Ivoire.

World leaders and the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire had already named Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 runoff poll.

In addition to the deaths reported in the post-election violence, the UN says at least 471 arrests and detentions were recorded between December 16 and 21.

Residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said that masked gunmen have been breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.

This comes as the UN says masked gunmen and troops allied to Gbagbo are blocking their access to what is suspected to be a mass grave.

Simon Munzu, the UN human rights director in Cote d’Ivoire, told Al Jazeera that military officers stopped UN workers from visiting the site in the small town of N’dotre where they had planned to investigate.

“As we approached N’dotre we ran up against a road block manned by officers of the Ivory Coast army who told us we couldn’t continue. We tried to talk to them to say we are here to investigate rumours and they said, ‘No, you’ve been told you have to leave the country’.”

Travel sanctions

While Ouattara has the backing of the international community, Gbagbo still controls the country’s military and also dominates state media.

The army’s support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons that he has been able to defy calls to step down.

The US and the EU have placed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over $800m.

Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.

The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara.

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