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Ivory Coast president-elect expects military help

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Laurent Gbagbo pressured to step down
  • NEW: "He will be removed; this shouldn't be a difficult operation," says Ouattara
  • The U.S. Treasury freezes Laurent Gbagbo's assets
  • Alassane Ouattara says he will negotiate with his rival if Gbagbo concedes Ouattara is president
  • Ouattara is "confident" that West African nations will intervene

Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) -- African regional authorities are prepared to remove from office self-proclaimed President Laurent Gbagbo, who election observers say lost last November's presidential runoff but has refused to step down, Ivory Coast's President-elect Alassane Ouattara said Thursday.

"I think it's clear that Mr. Laurent Gbagbo does not want to leave office," Ouattara told CNN, noting that representatives of the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union had tried to persuade him to leave earlier this week. "If he decides to leave, fine. If he decides not to leave, I think ECOWAS, our subregional union, will take the appropriate steps to remove him -- either through specific measures which the military people are working on, or a military force, which will be put into place.

"And I don't think a military intervention would be a big problem because this has been used in other cases in Africa and in Latin America. It's not a war against Cote D'Ivoire," he said, using the French name for Ivory Coast.

But Ouattara said he doesn't think such military intervention will lead to civil war.

Laurent Gbagbo pressured to step down
Ivory Coast crisis could up cocoa cost

"It's just a single person refusing to abide by the rules of democracy and creating problems for peace. So he will be removed. This shouldn't be a difficult operation."

The cocoa-producing West African nation was plunged into crisis when Ouattara was declared the winner of the November presidential runoff election, but Gbagbo, the incumbent, refused to leave office.

The U.S. Treasury froze Gbagbo's assets in the United States on Thursday, and barred Americans from doing business with him. His wife and three top aides also were sanctioned.

"Laurent Gbagbo continues to demonstrate wanton disregard for the will and well-being of the people of Cote d'Ivoire," the director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control said.

"Today's designations will isolate him and his inner circle from the world's financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down," Adam J. Szubin added.

Ouattara told CNN Thursday that he welcomes a proposal for direct negotiations with Gbagbo -- on the condition that Gbagbo recognize Ouattara as president.

Ouattara remains holed up in a waterfront hotel under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers. Gbagbo had previously promised to remove a military blockade he placed around the Golf Hotel, but those troops were still there late Thursday.

The foreign minister under Gbagbo's government, Alcide Djedje, told reporters Thursday that the troops were there to counter the threat posed by Ouattara's security force.

Ouattara is not willing to negotiate unless Gbagbo accepts that he's president.
--Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga

"More than 300 heavily armed soldiers live there, which constitutes a menace," he said. They must depart before Gbagbo's contingent of soldiers will depart, he said. "It's there for security purposes," he said.

Ouattara acknowledged that some military were with him, but put the number at fewer than 300. He said they were the security guards assigned to him from when he served as prime minister.

The United Nations said Wednesday it would ask the Security Council to approve up to 2,000 more troops to help ensure Ouattara is able to move out of the hotel and into the presidential palace.

But Djedje said the peacekeepers are "complicit with the rebellion; we cannot accept that." He added, "Right now, we have no more confidence in the U.N."

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 Gbagbo 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.

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 region.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union envoy for the mediation effort who met earlier this week with Gbagbo, said the embattled leader was open to a meeting with Ouattara.

"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.

"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.

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.

CNN's Richard Roth contributed to this report.