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U.N. asking for more peacekeepers for Ivory Coast

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Laurent Gbagbo pressured to step down
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Top U.S. envoy says Laurent Gbagbo stole the vote
  • Gbagbo says he'll lift a siege on his rival's hotel, but the blockade continues Wednesday
  • Gbagbo is open to talks, Kenyan prime minister says

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- Ivory Coast's diplomatic squabble centered Wednesday on a siege laid to a posh waterfront hotel where the president-elect has been holed up under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers.

The world body, meanwhile, said it would ask the Security Council to approve up to 2,000 more troops to help ensure the presidency for Alassane Ouattara, recognized as the rightful winner of the disputed election that sparked the current political crisis.

Alain Le Roy, the under-secretary-general for U.N. peacekeeping, said after a Security Council briefing that he was worried "we are facing more difficulties" in Ivory Coast.

As the political standoff continued, the top U.S. diplomat on Africa said Laurent Gbagbo, the defiant self-declared president, had "stolen" the vote that removed him from office.

"There is no question but that the election in the Ivory Coast was stolen by President Gbagbo and those around him," Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told reporters Wednesday.

Laurent Gbagbo pressured to step down
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Gbagbo's "continued presence in office amounts to a theft of the election," Carson said.

The United States and other countries have offered Gbagbo what they call a "dignified exit," which could mean living and working in other countries, including the United States. Gbagbo, however, has ignored those offers and has refused to accept telephone calls from U.S. officials.

Carson said Gbagbo has challenged democracy not only in Ivory Coast but also in the entire region.

Gbagbo, appearing to be softening his stance, had agreed to remove a military blockade around Ouattara's headquarters, but had not done so by Wednesday afternoon.

"The promise has not been kept," Le Roy said.

Alcide Djedje, Gbagbo's foreign minister, said Gbagbo justified the continued siege as "a measure of security" because 300 of Ouattara's soldiers within the hotel are heavily armed.

This hotel is a short boat ride from Gbagbo's residence. Djedje said the armed soldiers also posed a danger to people living near the hotel.

Gbagbo, said Djedje, is waiting for Ouattara to release the soldiers before pulling back the military.

"The information I have is that he will lift the blockade," said Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union envoy for the mediation effort. "He called the head of the military in our presence and asked him to lift the embargo, and I'm assuming that has happened."

Odinga, who visited Abidjan earlier this week with a delegation representing West African states, said Gbagbo was open to a meeting with the president-elect.

"He (Gbagbo) does not want any conditions," Odinga said. "He wants amnesty, he wants to know he's safe if he chooses to stay. These are things that have to be discussed face-to-face."

In short, Odinga said, the disputed president is willing to negotiate unconditionally.

"But Ouattara is not willing to negotiate unless Gbagbo accepts that he's president," Odinga said. "Ouattara is being difficult."

Ouattara has said he will ensure protection for Gbagbo if he concedes, Odinga said.

Major organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union, have declared Ouattara the winner of the November 28 presidential runoff vote.

Gbagbo, the incumbent, considers himself the rightful winner, and has not budged amid international pressure on him to step down.

Violence following Gbagbo's refusal to vacate office has left more than 170 people dead in Ivory Coast and disrupted life for residents in Abidjan, the country's commercial hub.

West African states will oust Gbagbo using military force if the standoff continues, Odinga said.

"We made it very clear that the stand of the African Union and ECOWAS is that Ouattara is the legitimate president," he said. "And in the absence of a peaceful settlement, military action will be pursued."

Odinga, who was named prime minister after an election dispute led to the formation of a coalition government in Kenya, said power-sharing will not be an option for the West African nation.

"It is dangerous," Odinga said. "It was replicated in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and set a dangerous precedence ... because it tells losers that they can cling to power in the hopes that a power-sharing will be worked out."

A coalition government is not "a healthy process," he said. "Losers must agree to surrender power."

The United States will not consider a power- sharing agreement because the outcome of the election was clear, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

"No one disputes the results of the election besides President Gbagbo," Crowley told reporters. "And we believe that for the future of democracy in Cote d'Ivoire and West Africa that he should step down. And that is why we continue to support diplomatic efforts to resolve that with the peaceful transfer of power to Mr. Ouattara."

Cote d'Ivoire is the French name for Ivory Coast, a former French colony.

Gbagbo has demanded a recount, which mediators have said is not an option because the election documents have been in the custody of his supporters.

Mediators will return to Ivory Coast in the near future, but a date has not been set, Odinga said.

CNN's Whitney Hurst, Faith Karimi and Jill Dougherty and journalist Eric Agnero contributed to this report.

 
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