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ECOWAS Leaders Meet Over Ivory Coast Crisis

Troops loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo try to disperse supporters of Alassane Ouattara in the popular Aboboa district of Abidjan, 16 Dec 2010

An official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) told VOA several heads of state and government in the sub-region are in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to participate in an emergency summit to find ways to resolve the political crisis in Ivory Coast.

Sonny Ugoh, communications director for ECOWAS, said it will be premature for them to employ militarily force to remove Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from power.

“Later today, heads of state will be meeting to review the situation in Cote d’Ivoire since their last summit and see what additional things they need to do, (and) what additional measures they will need to agree on to realize the objective that they have enunciated in their last communiqué on their last extraordinary summit also on Cote d’Ivoire,” said Ugoh, to see how they can bring to fruition the takeover of (Alassane) Ouattara as the president, as reflected in the last document that they had here.”

Supporters of former Prime Minister Ouattara have called on the international community to use force to remove Mr. Gbagbo from power saying targeted sanctions have not yielded the desired result.

The international community, including ECOWAS, has recognized Mr. Ouattara as the winner of Ivory Coast’s 28th November presidential run-off vote and has demanded President Gbagbo step down and hand over power to his successor.

But, Mr. Gbagbo, who is backed by the country’s military, has so far refused to step down, despite increasing international pressure to do so. He maintains he is the country’s true president saying he is willing to allow envoys from the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations to form a panel to study the post-election crisis.

Ugoh said it is imperative for the sub-regional bloc to help resolve the Ivorian crisis.

“It will be irresponsible of us to just pretend that because we have taken a decision at the last extraordinary summit that that is all we can do. I think we will engage with the issue of Cote d’Ivoire until (the issues are) resolved and there is a peaceful transition to President Ouattara.”

Meanwhile, the United States says it is talking with African nations about the possibility of boosting international peacekeepers in Ivory Coast.

U.S. officials say any move to increase the 10,000-person U.N. peacekeeping force would not be aimed at deposing Mr. Gbagbo, but to deter him from using his own forces to stay in power.