Ivory Coast's Gbagbo pressured to concede presidency

Ivory Coast's bloody election standoff escalated on Saturday with world powers urging long-term president Laurent Gbagbo to make way for Alassane Ouattara.

Powered by automated translation

ABIDJAN // Ivory Coast's bloody election standoff escalated on Saturday with world powers urging long-term President Laurent Gbagbo to make way for his old rival Alassane Ouattara.

With both candidates claiming victory and the United Nations, United States and European Union all throwing their weight behind Ouattara, Ivorians waited anxiously for the next move by Gbagbo, clinging on after a decade in power.

State television said early on Saturday that a ceremony was planned to confirm Gbagbo in office at midday and broadcast pictures of him meeting military leaders who it said pledged allegiance to him.

The Constitutional Council, the country's highest court run by the president's allies, had declared Gbagbo the winner, tightening the deadlock as fears mounted of more deadly unrest.

But Ouattara defied Gbagbo, declaring himself president-elect as the international community began to fall in behind him on Friday.

"I am the elected president of the Republic of Ivory Coast," Ouattara told reporters.

"The Constitutional Council has abused its authority, the whole world knows it, and I am sorry for my country's image."

Both sides had traded allegations of cheating in the vote and Gbagbo's camp tried to have results annulled in Ouattara's northern stronghold, but the United Nations judged the polls sound overall.

Gbagbo's camp remained defiant as Ouattara won international backing, threatening to expel the United Nations envoy to the country.

US President Barack Obama urged Gbagbo to acknowledge defeat or face the consequences.

"The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions," he warned.

Earlier Friday, supporters of the incumbent hit the streets yelling "Gbagbo, president!" in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city.

Ouattara's backers set fire to tyres to protest against the Constitutional Council ruling against their candidate.

"They're stealing our victory!" yelled one Ouattara supporter.

Gbagbo had sealed the country's borders and jammed foreign news broadcasts on Thursday and a nightly curfew remained in place.

Ouattara's campaign director Amadou Gon Coulibaly suggested to reporters Friday that Gbagbo might be plotting a "putsch".

The New Forces former rebel movement which controls the north of the country, led by Prime Minister Guillaume Soro who entered Gbagbo's government under a peace accord, also backed Ouattara.

Ban, in a statement from New York, called on Gbagbo "to do his part for the good of the country and to cooperate in a smooth political transition."

Gbagbo's camp reacted angrily, showing no sign of giving in and threatening to throw out UN envoy Choi Young-jin.

"If he continues these comments... next time we will demand his immediate departure," said Alcide Djedje, a senior adviser to Gbagbo, referring to Choi's statement endorsing Ouattara.

"Only the Constitutional Council can declare a candidate the winner," he added. "Ivory Coast is a sovereign state."

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy also recognised Ouattara as the new president and called for a peaceful transfer of power.

Security forces have been deployed around Abidjan and UN armoured vehicles were guarding the hotel housing Ouattara's campaign base.

Ouattara had called for calm on Thursday, appealing to his "brother" Gbagbo "to respect the choice of the Ivorian people".

The election aimed to end a decade of instability in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer and formerly west Africa's most prosperous country.

It was split in two by a civil war in 2002, when Gbagbo survived an attempted coup. He has continued to rule the country since his term ended in 2005.