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West Africa to Gbagbo: Step down or 'face legitimate force'

media Alassane Ouattara, at a press conference outside the Hotel du Golf, his current residence, in Abidjan on December 24, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

Following emergency talks on 24 December, the West African bloc Ecowas has given incumbent Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo an ultimatum: “"Stand down or expect to face legitimate force". Fearing that the country could descend into another civil war, some 10,000 people have already fled to Liberia and Guinea.

"In the event that Mr. Gbagbo fails to heed this immutable demand of ECOWAS, the Community would be left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people," read a statement issued by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States.

Alassane Ouattara, who has been internationally declared the rightful winner of last month’s disputed elections, thanked the regional bloc for its support in a rare speech on 24 December. He and his entourage have been confined to a hotel in Abidjan. 

Gbagbo, supported by the army, is facing almost unanimous international opposition.

On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his support of the UN General Assembly's decision to recognize Ouattara as winner.

The African Union has suspended the membership of Côte d'Ivoire "until such a time the democratically elected president effectively assumes state power," while the World Bank has halted lending and closed its office in the country.

The US and UN recently discussed the possibility of increasing the existing UN force in Côte d'Ivoire.

French and Dutch ships have been dispatched to Côte d'Ivoire to evacuate European citizens if necessary.

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