Neighbours threaten Ivory Coast

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UN forces drive past a billboard for President Laurent Gbagbo on the Ivory Coast (AP)

The man who refuses to leave Ivory Coast’s presidency is facing new threats to his grasp on power after regional leaders threatened to remove him by force if necessary.

Diplomatic pressure and sanctions have left Laurent Gbagbo increasingly isolated, though he has been able to maintain his rule nearly a month after the disputed vote because of the loyalty of security forces and the military.

But even that may disappear if he runs out of money to pay them.

West African leaders from the 15-country regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States has threatened to send military intervention into Ivory Coast if Gbagbo refused to step down peacefully.

“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,” an ECOWAS statement said.

James Gbeho, president of ECOWAS, said the group was making an “ultimate gesture” to Gbagbo to urge him to make a peaceful exit.

The group made the decision following a six-hour emergency summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on Ivory Coast as worries mounted that the country that suffered a 2002-2003 civil war could return to conflict.

Mr Gbeho said the bloc would send a top-level delegation to meet Gbagbo and tell him to step down, but did not say when or give a deadline for Gbagbo.

The threat of force came on the heels of another serious international reproach from the West African economic and monetary union, which called on the regional central bank to cut off Gbagbo’s access to state coffers.

Gbagbo has refused to step down despite international calls from the United Nations, the US, former coloniser France, the European Union and the African Union. The international community recognises Alassane Ouattara as the winner, though Gbagbo maintains control of the national military.

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