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Ivory Coast President Gbagbo Shows No Signs of Bowing to Pressure to Step Down

People walk on a road blocked by armed forces near the Ivorian state television station in the Cocody district of Abidjan, 18 Dec 2010
People walk on a road blocked by armed forces near the Ivorian state television station in the Cocody district of Abidjan, 18 Dec 2010

A spokeswoman for incumbent Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, says Mr. Gbagbo will not step down, despite violent street protests and mounting international pressure for him to cede power to U.N.-endorsed election winner, Alassane Ouattara. The spokeswoman also read a statement demanding French and United Nations troops leave the country.

The situation in Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate following last month's disputed presidential election. Incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to cede power to Alassane Ouattara who was recognized by the United Nations and much of the international community as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential run-off.

Gbagbo spokeswoman, Jacqueline Oble, read a government statement on Ivorian state television Saturday demanding that U.N. and French peacekeepers leave the country.

The political showdown looks dangerously close to reigniting a 2002-2003 civil war that split the country between a rebel-held north and a government-held south.

Both men have set up rival governments and have the support of rival armed forces.

On Thursday in Abidjan, rebel fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara exchanged fire with the army and protests against Mr. Gbagbo led to street clashes where at least 20 people were killed.

A senior U.S. official said Friday at least one African nation has promised Mr. Gbagbo, what is called "a safe landing" in exile if he cedes power. Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters, however, are digging in their heels.

Speaking to the press Friday, Gbagbo spokesman, Alain Toussaint, says Mr. Gbagbo's departure is not the order of the day. He says Mr. Gbagbo was elected for five years and Ivory Coast's institutions have to be respected. He says France, the United States and the European Union are pressuring Mr. Gbagbo and that does not bode well for a solution to this situation.

The European Union called Friday on the Ivorian army to defect from Mr. Gbagbo to Mr. Ouattara, a move that sparked anger among Gbagbo supporters who accuse foreigners of interfering in Ivory Coast's affairs and threatening its sovereignty.

On Friday, United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Thursday's violence and said the situation in Ivory Coast had taken a "dangerous turn."

"There was a clear winner. Power-sharing is not an option," he said. "The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public will cannot be allowed to stand. I call on him to step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further hindrance. The international community must send this message - loud and clear. Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law."

Original electoral commission results said Mr. Ouattara won the Nov. 28th run-off election with 54 percent of votes, but the constitutional court, which is led by a Gbagbo ally, annulled 10 percent of ballots as fraudulent and proclaimed Mr. Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of votes.

France and the United States have threatened sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo if he does not cede power. ECOWAS and the African Union have suspended Ivory Coast.

In Nairobi Friday, Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, urged the African Union and the international community to step in, arguing that force may be only way to remove Mr. Gbagbo.

"The world cannot expect Mr. Gbagbo to act in the interest of democracy or to make the decision that favors his people. A decision must be made for him," he said.

The U.N. High Commission on Refugees says fears of civil war in Ivory Coast have already prompted more than 4,000 Ivorians to flee to neighboring Liberia.