Ouattara ally: Ivory Coast now in `war situation`

West African leaders have said they are prepared to use military force to push Gbagbo out, but are giving negotiations more time for now.

Abidjan: A top ally of Ivory Coast`s internationally recognized leader said Friday that the country is already in a "civil war situation," and he urged the incumbent leader who refuses to cede power to step down by a midnight deadline.

The United Nations has said that the volatile West African nation once divided in two faces a real risk of return to civil war but Guillaume Soro told reporters that the country is already at this point — "indeed in a civil war situation."

"This is what`s at stake: Either we assist in the installation of democracy in Ivory Coast or we stand by indifferent and allow democracy to be assassinated," Soro said at a news conference.

The United Nations declared Alassane Ouattara the winner of Ivory Coast`s long-delayed presidential vote, endorsing the announcement by the country`s electoral commission. But incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step aside now for more than a month.

West African leaders have said they are prepared to use military force to push Gbagbo out, but are giving negotiations more time for now.

Gbagbo points to Ivory Coast`s constitutional council, which declared him president after throwing out more than half a million votes from Ouattara strongholds. The council cited violence and intimidation toward Gbagbo supporters that invalidated the results. The top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast has disputed that assessment.

Soro told reporters that if Gbagbo steps aside by midnight, "he will be guaranteed all the privileges of a former head of state." Gbagbo already has rebuffed a high-level delegation of West African leaders who paid him two personal visits, and shows no signs he plans to go.

"All dictators are alike and all dictators will not negotiate their departure — they are made to leave," Soro said. "For the time being we are letting diplomacy do its work but when the time comes, each of us will assume our responsibilities."

Soro was appointed prime minister under Ouattara`s government, which has been holed up in a hotel under U.N. protection despite its widespread international recognition. Soro, a former rebel leader from the north, served in a coalition government with Gbagbo but is now aligned with Ouattara.

Ivory Coast was divided in two by a 2002-2003 civil war, and the long-delayed presidential election was intended to help reunify the nation. However, tensions over the disputed outcome have sparked violence. The United Nations has confirmed 173 deaths, though Gbagbo supporters say 36 of those were security forces killed by protesters.

Bureau Report

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