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December 18, 2010

UN Chief: Peacekeepers to Stay in Ivory Coast

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has rejected a demand by embattled Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo that peacekeepers leave the country.

In a statement Ban said the U.N. mission will fulfill its mandate and continue to monitor and document human rights violations, incitement to hated and violence or attacks on UN peacekeepers

Gbagbo on Saturday had ordered foreign peacekeepers out of the west African nation, accusing them of backing rebel fighters supporting his rival Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara has been recognized by international groups as the winner of last month's presidential election, but Gbagbo has refused to leave office.

International pressure on Gbagbo mounted on Friday, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned him to give up power by the end of this week or face European Union sanctions.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the African Union must be ready to use military force to remove Gbagbo and preserve democracy.

The power struggle has led to fears of renewed conflict in Ivory Coast, although officials on both sides have said they want to avoid war.

Ivory Coast is trying to recover from a 2002 civil war that left it divided into rebel- and government-controlled territories.  The presidential election was meant to restore stability to the West African country.

Gbagbo has ruled Ivory Coast since 2000.  His term officially ended in 2005, but he remained in office as elections were repeatedly postponed.