The EU has announced it won't recognize diplomats selected by disputed Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo. Meanwhile, members of the African bloc of nations have threatened to remove him by force.
Gbagbo does not want to give up the presidency
The validity of Laurent Gbagbo's claim to the office of President of Ivory Coast took another hit on Wednesday, when the French Foreign Ministry announced that EU nations would recognize only representatives selected by his rival, Alassane Ouattara.
The decision was reached among EU heads of state meeting in Brussels, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Following presidential elections in November, Ouattara was recognized as the rightful winner by the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the United States, but incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has so far refused to step down. The dispute has boiled over into violent clashes, and around 200 people have been killed.
On Wednesday, West African leaders met in Nigeria to plan their next steps aimed at persuading Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to step down, after their first attempt failed.
The presidents of three countries - Benin's Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde - traveled to Ivory Coast on Tuesday with a message for defiant President Gbagbo: step down from office, or be removed.
The presidents, delegates of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), planned to return to Abidjan "next week" to resume their efforts, the president's office in Cape Verde announced Wednesday.
ECOWAS had said last Friday that if Gbagbo didn't give up the presidency of Ivory Coast to Alassane Ouattara, he would face military intervention.
There is a fear of escalating violence in Ivory Coast
After arriving Tuesday in Abidjan, the ECOWAS trio first met with the head of the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, and later met with Gbagbo at the presidential palace.
"They told the former president Laurent Gbagbo that ... Alassane Outtara's status as president of the republic is non-negotiable," Outtara's spokesman Patrick Achi told reporters Tuesday.
"The matter now is to negotiate the conditions for the departure of [the]former president," Achi added.
After meeting with both Gbagbo and Ouattara, the three delegates flew late on Tuesday to Abuja, where they were set to meet with the chairman of ECOWAS, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Nigeria is the largest economic and military power in the 15-nation ECOWAS bloc and could be expected to take a leading role in any military action taken to oust Gbagbo and install Outtara.
On Tuesday, Abidjan saw renewed unrest as a mob in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood attacked a convoy of three vehicles carrying United Nations peacekeepers. The mob injured one soldier with a machete and burned one of the convoy's vehicles, the UN said in a statement.
The UN Human Rights Council says about 14,000 refugees have fled Ivory Coast to neighboring Liberia over fears of renewed civil war.
Influential in west Africa
Even before Tuesday's meeting, Gbagbo responded to the threat of military force from ECOWAS by saying it would push Ivory Coast closer to civil war, and added that there would be consequences for countries that got involved.
"He was clearly sending a warning to his neighbors," Paul-Simon Handy from the Institute for Strategic Studies in South Africa told Deutsche Welle. "Particularly to the leaders of the neighboring countries, saying any involvement in that war will have an impact on your own country."
A military conflict in the Ivory Coast could have serious consequences for the region. Handy says the country's size and economic importance make it a key state in West Africa.
"Any instability on Ivory Coast has a strong impact on other countries," he said.
Author: Sarah Harman, Matt Zuvela (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold