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UN: Ivory Coast Death Toll Up to 260

Local residents look on as a UN vehicle, set on fire by militant student supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, burns in the Riviera 2 neighborhood of Abidjan, 13 Jan 2011

The United Nations says at least 260 people have been killed in Ivory Coast since the start of a power struggle between two rivals who both claim to be president.

The local U.N. human rights chief, Simon Munzu, said Thursday the violence has also become more widespread since the crisis began about two months ago.

Munzu said at least 23 women have been raped during the last week in the western region, far from the southeastern city of Abidjan, where the political showdown has led to deadly clashes.

Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo is defying international calls to cede power to opponent Alassane Ouattara. Most countries recognize Mr. Ouattara as the winner of November's presidential poll.

On Wednesday, the incumbent president accused the African Union's mediator, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, of siding with Mr. Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo said he would no longer work with the prime minister on resolving the impasse.

Mr. Odinga has warned that time is running out to resolve the matter peacefully. The West African bloc ECOWAS has threatened to remove Mr. Gbagbo by force if he does not give up power.

Also on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council agreed to boost its peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast by 2,000 troops, raising the total number to 12,000.

Mr. Gbagbo has demanded that all U.N. peacekeepers leave the country. Last week, pro-Gbagbo mobs attacked and burned several U.N. vehicles.

U.N. peacekeepers are protecting Mr. Ouattara who is living inside the Abidjan hotel that is serving as his headquarters. Pro-Gbagbo security forces have maintained a blockade around the hotel for more than a month.

Some information for this report was provided by AP