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U.N. defies Gbagbo to extend Ivorian presence
UNITED NATIONS/ABIDJAN |
UNITED NATIONS/ABIDJAN (Reuters) - World powers agreed on Monday to keep 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast after a disputed presidential poll, openly defying incumbent Laurent Gbagbo's demand that they quit the country.
Gbagbo faces growing international pressure after European Union countries agreed to impose a travel ban on him and his entourage for failing to step down after a Nov. 28 election the outside world says he lost.
The United States said it was also readying sanctions and repeated its call for Gbagbo to stand down. "It is time for him to go," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Rival claimant Alassane Ouattara has the backing of the U.N., African leaders, Washington and the European Union but Gbagbo retains control over the army in a power struggle that has raised fears of a return to war in the world's top cocoa grower.
The Security Council backed a resolution extending the local U.N. mission for a further six months and urging it "to support, in coordination with the Ivorian authorities, the provision of security for the Government and key political stakeholders".
It warned that anyone responsible for attacks on civilians or peacekeepers could be hauled before an international tribunal.
Noting violence which has already claimed over 50 lives, the Council urged the force to fulfil a mandate to protect civilians. But it was not immediately clear whether it represented the toughening of the mandate which Ouattara has called for.
Gbagbo's government repeated demands for the force to leave.
"If, against our will, it wants to keep this force on our territory, we will not cooperate with it. That means the leader of that force will not have a formal interlocutor -- how are they going to work?" said Interior Minister Emile Guirieoulou.
Hours earlier, EU countries agreed to impose a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife and 17 of his close allies.
"We expect the ban to be adopted by Wednesday and come into effect on Thursday, effective immediately," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels, adding that governments were also discussing a freeze on assets.
SANCTIONS "MAKE US SMILE"
Washington has threatened similar punitive measures since the disputed election. Intended to heal scars in a country ripped apart by a 2002-2003 civil war, it has only accentuated the divide between the Gbagbo-held south and rebel-held north.
The EU travel ban list is expected to include top security, ruling party and regular army officials as well as figures in the entourage of Gbagbo and his powerful wife Simone.
"I don't think this will advance things. It just shows that those behind them haven't got much room for manoeuvre," Gbagbo aide Pascal Affi N'Guessan said of the sanctions.
Guirieoulou said of the sanctions: "They make us smile."
Tensions in Ivory Coast have pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks on market fears of a disruption to supplies. So far, beans have been getting through to port but there have been delays in registering them for export.
Ouattara's eight-point poll victory was overturned on grounds of alleged fraud by the Constitutional Council, a top legal body led by a staunch Gbagbo ally.
U.N. mission chief Y.J. Choi accused Gbagbo's camp of a media campaign inciting violence against U.N. staff and said "armed young men" had harassed some at their homes.
But he said the mission, known as UNOCI, would not be deterred from doing its job. "We remember one of Winston Churchill's maxims: 'If you are going through hell, just keep going'," he said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cited on Sunday evidence of "massive" violations in Ivory Coast, saying over 50 people had been killed in the previous three days and hundreds had been abducted from their homes by armed men.
Outside the U.N. headquarters, Ouattara supporters said they had been attacked overnight, and begged for medical care.
"Masked men attacked us last night," said Salif Kone, 57, a taxi driver who escaped a raid on his Abidjan neighbourhood. "They fired tear gas and bullets. Many were wounded."
Gbagbo's government has denied using excessive force to put down protests last week and says some protesters were armed.
Around 5,000 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring countries such as Liberia and Guinea, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said it is making contingency plans for a possible greater exodus.
(Additional reporting by Brussels bureau and Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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