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AU envoy warns Ivory Coast's Gbagbo

By the CNN Wire Staff
Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast is being warned he faces military intervention if he doesn't step down.
Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast is being warned he faces military intervention if he doesn't step down.
  • Kenya's prime minister says the people of Ivory Coast have "spoken clearly"
  • West African neighbors have threatened to remove Laurent Gbagbo by force
  • A Gbagbo minister has called off demonstrations, offering "a chance for peace"

(CNN) -- Kenya's prime minister headed to Ivory Coast on Sunday with a warning for the country's self-proclaimed president, urging him to step down or face military intervention by his neighbors.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the Ivory Coast's people "have spoken clearly" in the November presidential runoff, which international observers say incumbent Laurent Gbagbo lost to his challenger, Alassane Outtara. Gbagbo has refused to leave office and had himself sworn in for another term.

The standoff has brought the country to the brink of renewed civil war. Odinga is the African Union's special envoy for the crisis, and said he hoped to persuade Gbagbo to step down with his safety guaranteed.

"We are engaged in this to ensure there is a peaceful solution -- that we do not have to use military force to sort out matters in Cote d'Ivoire," Odinga told reporters, referring to the country by its French name.

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Odinga left Nairobi on Sunday to join the leaders of three other countries in the region who are representing the Economic Community of West African States. ECOWAS has threatened to use "legitimate force" to remove Gbagbo and called a two-day meeting of its defense chiefs January 17 to plan future steps if he fails to step down.

Gbagbo has said he wants an an international committee to recount the vote. But the AU, ECOWAS, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States all have recognized Ouattara as president-elect and called on Gbagbo to step down.

The impasse has led to a tense standoff in Abidjan, where Ouattara has been holed up since the election with U.N. peacekeeping troops in the Golf Hotel. But Sunday, Gbagbo cabinet minister Charles Ble Goude reversed his call for Ivoirians to surround the hotel "to give a chance for peace and the negotiations that are going on."

Ble Goude made the announcement on the state television network RTI. U.N. officials had warned Gbagbo that the 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission would "repulse and defeat" any attack.

The country was wracked by civil war from 2002 to 2007, when a settlement left the country divided between north and south. The 2010 elections came with high expectations that they would open a new chapter in the country's history.

Despite the threat of military action to remove Gbagbo, Odinga said he was bringing a "peaceful message" to the people of the Ivory Coast from their African neighbors.

He said the country would need substantial assistance to rebuild an economy left "in shambles" by the civil war -- but added, "I believe strongly that if an agreement and understanding can be reached, that a new start can be made."

Journalist Eric Agnero contributed to this report for CNN.