8 Dec 2010

West African leaders take sides in Ivory Coast crisis

2:06 pm on 8 December 2010

A West African regional group has recognised Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast's president-elect following disputed elections, and urged Laurent Gbagbo to accept defeat and step down.

Both have claimed victory in the 28 November presidential election.

Mr Gbagbo was sworn in as president last week and named a new cabinet, defying international demands for him to yield.

Provisional results from the November poll put Mr Ouattara as the winner, and he has also announced a government, from a hotel guarded by UN peacekeepers.

After an emergency summit attended by regional heads of state in Nigeria, the 15-nation West African regional body ECOWAS further increased pressure on Mr Gbagbo by suspending Ivory Coast's involvement in the group, which leads transport, finance and other projects.

The dispute over the outcome of last month's poll has raised the risk of renewed violence in a nation still divided after a 2002-3 war, prompting the United Nations to begin pulling out some staff.

International backing for Ouattara is based on copies of result sheets collected by the UN across the country.

Mr Gbagbo, who has kept control of the army and state television, has dismissed calls on him to quit as meddling and on Tuesday held a first cabinet meeting.

Former finance minister Charles Koffi Diby was missing from the cabinet lineup. He handled talks with the IMF and World Bank on $US3 billion of debt relief and there is speculation he has changed sides.