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Defiant Gbagbo urged to step down

The United Nations' top envoy in Ivory Coast told the world body there was "only one winner" of the recent presidential election - and it was not the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

Speaking via a video link from Abidjan, Choi Young-jin urged the UN to take action against Mr Gbagbo to safeguard the result of the vote as a regional bloc of 15 countries in West Africa suspended Ivory Coast's membership and warned Mr Gbagbo to yield power immediately to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

The continuing uncertainty over what will happen next in Ivory Coast saw hundreds of people to flee the country and the UN also began evacuating 500 staff.

The UN has said that Mr Gbagbo's opponent, Alassane Ouattara, won the election but Mr Gbagbo turned his back on international opinion defiantly went ahead with the naming of his cabinet at a ceremony in the presidential palace.

Across town in an ageing hotel, the man considered by the UN, US and other regional powers to be the rightful winner of the race held his own cabinet meeting, minus the pomp.

Mr Ouattara, a soft-spoken economist who spent years at the International Monetary Fund, is being waited on by the hotel's staff and is guarded by UN peacekeepers.

But his prime minister told foreign diplomats they needed further military reinforcements because they did not feel safe.

It is unclear what the international community can do if Mr Gbagbo refuses to step down. If he does not go voluntarily, removing him would require a military intervention since he appears to have the backing of his own army. He also controls the apparatus of state, including access to the glass-walled palace which is the seat of government.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council, Mr Choi recalled how the country's electoral commission last week declared Mr Ouattara the winner of the election with 54% of the vote.

But that result was immediately overturned by the constitutional council, headed by a close adviser to Mr Gbagbo, who threw out the votes from Mr Ouattara's strongholds.

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