The international community has said incumbent Laurent Gbagbo lost Ivory Coast's recent elections and has called for him to step down. Now a group of West African leaders says it will use force if he won't resign.
Many are worried Ivory Coast could be slipping into civil war
Leaders from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS have upped the ante for Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo, saying that if he does not peacefully step down and hand power over to the internationally recognized winner of November's elections, Alassane Ouattara, they would have to intervene militarily.
The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde plan to travel to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to tell Gbagbo on behalf of ECOWAS "that he must step down as quickly as possible or face legitimate military force," Benin's Foreign Minister Jean Marie Ehouzou told Reuters news agency on Saturday.
Observers say Gbagbo lost, but is still clinging to power
In a statement, the neighboring countries said if Gbagbo refuses to give up his position, "the community will be left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people."
The leaders said they were planning a meeting of defense chiefs of staff to develop plans for the possible use of force.
On Thursday, ECOWAS announced that its central bank was blocking funds to Gbagbo and that access would only be given to Ouattara's "legitimate government."
The UN says 173 people have been killed in the last week in Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast has plunged into violence since the presidential election on November 28. The United Nations UNOCI peacekeeping force has said at least 173 people have been killed in the past week and said Gbagbo's security forces were committing "massive human rights abuses."
The ECOWAS leaders expressed their "deep concern" for the death and warned "all those responsible that they will face international trials for human rights violations at the earliest opportunity.
There are concerns the country will slip back into conflict after suffering a civil war in 2002 and 2003. The United Nations said Saturday that about 14,000 people have already fled Ivory Coast for neighboring Liberia.
The UN, the US, the European Union and the African Union have all declared Ouattara the winner of the elections and his proposed ambassador has been recognized by the UN General Assembly.
Author: Holly Fox, Martin Kuebler (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Ben Knight