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Ivory Coast leader calls for forces

The internationally recognised winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election is asking for special forces to launch a commando operation to remove the country's defiant sitting president who has refused to give up power five weeks after losing the vote.

Hunkered down at a hotel guarded by United Nations peacekeepers, Alassane Ouattara said that Laurent Gbagbo would try to flee if the regional Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, sent in troops to oust him.

"I know Mr Gbagbo," Ouattara said on the lawn of the lagoonside hotel. "If he sees that ECOWAS troops are coming to capture him, believe me he will start running away. I know him well. He does not have the courage to face those type of situations."

While the UN and other world powers recognise Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 presidential run-off, Gbagbo has refused to step down, insisting he was the victor. The political stand-off has paralysed this once prosperous country, the world's largest cocoa producer, and tensions over the outcome have sparked violence, with the UN confirming at least 173 deaths.

While ECOWAS has threatened military action against Gbagbo, African leaders in recent days have shied away from making a commitment, fearing mass casualties and a possible return to civil war in the nation that was divided by such bloodshed after a civil war that erupted in 2002.

Ouattara, 68, addressed those concerns in the interview, saying that if West African nations "do send in special forces with the objective of removing Mr Gbagbo, he will be removed, without much damage".

An ECOWAS military operation would not take much time or many resources, and Gbagbo would cave in immediately, said Ouattara, who is protected at the hotel by UN peacekeeping troops.

Gbagbo's location can be quickly identified by a team of elite troops because he "is essentially at his residence or at the presidential palace," Ouattara said. He added that elite forces have carried out similar operations in Latin America and Africa "to remove the person who is the problem".

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and the strongest of ECOWAS' 15 members, has a large military and the kind of special forces that Ouattara is calling for. But participation of Nigerian commandos would require the approval of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who as recently as Tuesday said more time is needed to resolve the Ivory Coast stand-off.

At home, Ouattara has been confined to the grounds of the resort hotel and has been barred access to the institutions of power, including the presidential palace located across the lagoon where Gbagbo has continued to hold Cabinet meetings. But abroad, Ouattara has succeeded in exerting his influence, including asking some 20 countries to no longer recognise Gbagbo's ambassadors.

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