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Ivory Coast Crisis Creates Diplomatic Paralysis

Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo, speaks during an exclusive interview at his residence, in Abidjan, 26 Dec 2010

Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo, speaks during an exclusive interview at his residence, in Abidjan, 26 Dec 2010

The deadlock in Ivory Coast is taking its toll overseas. Several countries, including France, no longer recognize ambassadors appointed by embattled President Laurent Gbagbo.

It is a bitterly cold afternoon. A few blocks from the Champs Elysees, about 20 Ivorians are crowded in front of a building guarded by French police. This building is Ivory Coast's embassy in Paris.

But the French government no longer recognizes the ambassador, who was appointed by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. The French foreign ministry says it is waiting for the man widely believed to have won Ivory Coast's presidential elections, Alassane Ouattara, to appoint a new envoy.

An Ivorian who also has French nationality, Ben Koudou, is at the embassy to renew his Ivorian passport. "I called the ambassador a couple of days ago. He is still working ... he said, 'Do not worry, you can come to do anything you want because I am still working right now," said Koudou.

A man who answered the embassy's phone also said it is functioning normally. But diplomats will not speak to the media and the embassy's Internet site says it has suspended visa services.

And the embassy's doors here are closed. A man calls out names of the Ivorians waiting on the sidewalk through a barred window. Ivorians say this is because supporters of Mr. Ouattara temporarily took over the embassy last week.

For Koudou and the others here, there is a sense of being in limbo. They watch from afar the events unrolling in their home country, where West African efforts to get Mr. Gbagbo to step down have failed.

Koudou believes there only solution is new elections. "They can revote," he said. "That is the best thing they can do. Because this is a mess. The country is in a mess. We have to deal with it."

Former colonial power France has 950 troops and roughly 15,000 citizens in Ivory Coast. But while France has thrown its weight behind Mr. Ouattara, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says Paris will not get involved militarily.

Meanwhile, two prominent French lawyers have returned from Ivory Coast where they met with Mr. Gbagbo. They want a recount of the vote. But the pair, who include former foreign minister Roland Dumas, have been largely discredited here.

Still one Ivorian, shivering outside the embassy, agrees a recount is the best solution. The man says recounting the vote will reveal the true winner of Ivory Coast's disputed election. He denounces foreign interference in what he says is an internal Ivorian matter.

Anne Kacou, who also waits to renew her Ivorian passport, agrees.

Kacou says she is sad about what is happening in Ivory Coast. She believes there should be new elections. If France really wants to help, she says, it would back a new vote.