Abidjan: The African Union suspended Ivory Coast from its ranks on Thursday after Laurent Gbagbo failed to heed its call to stand down as president and respect election results that handed victory to his rival.
The bloc`s decision came after both the UN Security Council and senior African leaders said Gbagbo should abandon efforts to cling to office in the wake of the November 29 run-off poll against former premier Alassane Ouattara.
"The decision which was taken was to suspend Ivory Coast from participating in the activities of the African Union until the democratically elected president Alassane Ouattara takes power," Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters at the AU`s Addis Ababa headquarters.
The 53-nation bloc`s decision capped Gbagbo`s growing diplomatic isolation.
Kenya`s Prime Minister Raila Odinga demanded Gbagbo accept defeat and urged the world to hold him responsible for the bloody "chaos" since the run-off.
France meanwhile said it was on alert to evacuate thousands of its nationals from the former French colony if the situation turns ugly, its Defence Minister Alain Juppe said.
"For now violence and tensions have been avoided, and I`m glad about that," he said in Brussels. "There has not been any particular threat aimed at our citizens but this (evacuation) mechanism is on alert."
The United Nations has already ordered 460 non-essential staff out of the country, and foreign companies have evacuated expatriates.
Gbagbo, who retains nominal control of the army and state television, has shown no signs of relaxing his 10-year grip on power in the West African cocoa producer, and unveiled his new government on Wednesday.
Ouattara has named a rival government, and his prime minister Guillaume Soro said it had begun replacing ambassadors in key countries, and "taking measures" to gain control of public finances.
Odinga, speaking on the sidelines of climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, said Ivory Coast faced "a tragedy Africa cannot afford," as Kenya followed South Africa, the continent`s biggest economic power, in rallying behind Ouattara.
"The international community must hold Mr Gbagbo responsible for the chaos, the loss of lives and destruction of property" in Ivory Coast, Odinga said.
Clashes surrounding the election left at least 20 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
The UN Security Council late Wednesday gave its backing to Ouattara, an international seal of recognition for the leader from the northern, mostly Muslim, half of the divided country.
Official results showed incumbent Gbagbo failing to clinch re-election by a significant margin in the runoff. But he had himself sworn in regardless, alleging voting irregularities.
Gbagbo unveiled his own new cabinet Tuesday but Soro, who is also leader of the New Forces former rebel movement that controls the north, retorted: "It is we who have the power. It is now a matter of bringing it into effect."
Amid fears the standoff could signal a return to open conflict in the country, which was split in two by a 2002 civil war, Soro warned that several thousand New Forces troops could be mobilised if Gbagbo does not give in. But he stressed: "We are not yet at the stage of using force."
In a warning to Gbagbo`s camp, Security Council members said they "condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort to subvert the popular will" in Ivory Coast and raised again the threat of sanctions.
The council reaffirmed that it was ready to "impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process" or obstruct the UN mission in the country.