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UN imposes sanctions on Gbagbo

The United Nations Security Council has demanded an immediate end to the escalating violence in Ivory Coast and imposed sanctions on Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to relinquish the presidency, and his inner circle.

Wednesday night's security council vote was unanimous and came five days after France and Nigeria introduced a draft resolution expressing "grave concern" that the west African nation could relapse into civil war.

"I think the sense of urgency is obvious since ... the confrontation is extending in Ivory Coast and the situation is worsening by the hour," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said. The message "is very simple - Gbagbo must go. It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war."

The UN's most powerful body voted on the day that fighters supporting Ivory Coast's internationally recognised president, Alassane Ouattara, seized control of the country's administrative capital Yamoussoukro.

It was seen as a symbolic victory by Mr Ouattara's forces after months of political chaos that began when Gbagbo, the incumbent president, refused to recognise the results of the November election.

The resolution demanded "an immediate end to the violence" and urged all Ivorian parties "to respect the will of the people and the election" of Mr Ouattara as president. And it condemned Gbagbo's decision not to accept the solution proposed by a high-level African Union panel earlier this month, which includes recognising Mr Ouattara as president, and urged him step aside immediately.

The African Union had also suggested getting Mr Ouattara to appoint members of Gbagbo's political party to a unity government. Mr Ouattara said he had embraced this idea since last year's presidential campaign, but Gbagbo rejected it.

The resolution backs the African Union proposal and calls for "an overall political solution that preserves democracy and peace and promotes lasting reconciliation among Ivorians".

Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, has been in turmoil for almost a decade. It was split into a rebel-controlled north and government-controlled south after an attempted coup sparked civil war in 2002.

A peace deal in March 2007 brought key rebel leaders into the administration and offered hope for a single government after years of foundering accords and disarmament plans. But the results of the November 29 presidential election made clear that deep divisions remain.

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