Ivorian Army `unified` behind Gbagbo despite pressure

Laurent Gbagbo is under international pressure to quit after Nov 28 polls.

Abidjan: Ivory Coast`s Army stands united behind incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, a spokesman said, after a top aide of rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said world leaders may have to use force to oust him.

Gbagbo is under international pressure to quit after a November 28 election they say he lost to Ouattara, deepening a dispute in the West African state that has already killed 50 people and threatened to rekindle a civil war.

"There is no doubt about the cohesion as perfect brothers in arms of the security and defence forces," Army spokesman Babri Gohourou said in an address on state TV late on Wednesday. "(We) also reaffirm our unfailing attachment to the President."

The comment came hours after the prime minister of Ouattara`s rival government, Guillaume Soro, said the "only solution" to the crisis was for world leaders to use force to oust him if other measures fail.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS have all recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the poll and have called on Gbagbo to step down.

The United States and the European Union have also since slapped travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank said on Wednesday it froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over USD 800 million.

Ministers from the West African Economic and Monetary Union bloc are scheduled to meet later on Thursday in Guinea-Bissau to discuss Ivory Coast, a bank official said.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick said on Wednesday he had talked to Malian President Amandou Toumani Toure about getting the bloc to also freeze loans to Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.

The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara, and residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.

The turmoil in the world`s top cocoa-producing country has boosted cocoa prices to recent four-month highs, disrupting export registrations and raising the possibility that fighting could block transport and shipping.

The US State Department said Washington was discussing moves to strengthen the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast with former colonial power France and African states in a move that could add pressure on Gbagbo.

The United Nations Security Council this week defied Gbagbo by extending the mandate of the 10,000 strong force.

The election, delayed repeatedly since 2005, was meant to reunite the country following a 2002-03 civil war that split it in two, but it has instead aggravated divisions.

France advised its 13,000 citizens now in the country to leave as the risk of conflict grows. Germany and Britain also advised against travel there and urged citizens to leave.

Bureau Report

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