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'Force' call over Ivory Coast row

A leading ally of the man widely recognised as Ivory Coast's new president has said that incumbent Laurent Gbagbo is using stalling tactics to stay in power and urged the international community to intervene with "legitimate force" to remove him.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo supporters who were called on to remove Alassane Ouattara from the Golf Hotel on New Year's morning failed to materialise as United Nations Bangladeshi riot police guarded the hotel's entrance in full crowd-control gear.

Mr Ouattara's Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro, said Mr Gbagbo would only leave power by force and that the international community would have to intervene to protect democracy in Africa. He dismissed Mr Gbagbo's offer to invite an international investigation into the country as a delay tactic.

"It was this same type of distracting proposition that he used to hold on for five years without an election," Mr Soro said. "Enough is enough. Mr Gbagbo must leave power."

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who also holds the rotating presidency of Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, is due in Abidjan on Monday to negotiate Mr Gbagbo's departure. Ecowas threatened to use military force to remove Mr Gbagbo if he does not leave freely, but failed to persuade him to go into exile when its first delegation came to Ivory Coast on Monday.

The UN has said the volatile West African nation once divided in two faces a real risk of return to civil war, but Mr Soro said: "In any country that records more than 200 dead in five days, as the UN has certified, it's war. When a country experiences a massive population flight of the population - more than 20,000 Ivorians who leave their country to seek refuge in a country like Liberia - it's war," he said.

Human rights groups accuse Mr Gbagbo's security forces of abducting and killing political opponents, though Gbagbo allies deny the allegations and say some of the victims were security forces killed by protesters. The UN has confirmed at least 173 deaths.

Mr Gbagbo gave an address on state television on Friday in which he accused the international community of mounting a coup d'etat to oust him and said Ivorians were being subjected to international hostility. "No-one has the right to call on foreign armies to invade his country," he said.

The United Nations had been invited by all parties to certify the results of the November 28 presidential run-off vote. The UN declared Mr Ouattara the winner, endorsing the announcement by the country's electoral commission. But Mr Gbagbo has refused to step aside now for more than a month, defying international condemnation and growing calls for his ouster.

The European Union has approved sanctions on 59 more people, in addition to 19 already sanctioned last week including Mr Gbagbo and his wife. Mr Gbagbo and about 30 of his allies also face US travel sanctions, though such measures have typically failed to reverse illegal power grabs in Africa in the past. West African leaders have said they are prepared to use military force to push Mr Gbagbo out, but are giving negotiations more time for now.

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