Abidjan: The two leaders battling for power in Ivory Coast were on a collision course Tuesday after troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo deployed around his enemy Alassane Outtara`s headquarters.
Outtara`s supporters were undaunted, and vowed to take control of government headquarters in Abidjan and to hold a cabinet meeting there by Friday, and EU ministers agreed measures against Gbagbo and his senior supporters.
On Monday, the isolated but defiant incumbent had deployed troops and gendarmes on access routes to Ouattara`s United Nations-protected waterfront base, in the Hotel Golf on the shores of Abidjan`s lagoon.
Gbagbo and Ouattara both declared themselves president in the wake of last month`s disputed election. Ouattara has been recognised by the international community, but Ivorian army chiefs continue to back Gbagbo.
Pro-Gbagbo security forces blocked roads to the hotel from around midday until nightfall, then fell back into more discreet positions to monitor the situation, while allowing traffic to pass, witnesses and soldiers said.
Former rebel fighters from the New Forces (FN) armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades had earlier taken up defensive positions around the waterfront Hotel Golf, alongside armed UN peacekeepers.
The loyalist forces were equipped with trucks mounted with machine-guns and had rocket-launchers of their own, but there was no sign they were preparing to launch an assault and the situation was calm by nightfall.
A 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew remained in place on Monday, state television said, and was prolonged from Tuesday for at least another week while being reduced in duration to the hours between midnight (2400 GMT) and 5:00 am.
Ouattara`s prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, announced a plan to take control of state television headquarters by Thursday and the prime minister`s offices in time for a cabinet meeting on Friday.
It was not immediately clear whether he was prepared to use force to push this plan through if Gbagbo resists.
In New York UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters: "The mission reports that the situation at the Gulf Hotel remains tense.
"Armed elements from both camps were observed reinforcing positions and the mission continues to provide security around the hotel.
"The mission is under orders to protect Mr Ouattara`s administration and that is in accordance with the mandate that the mission has."
The 65-year-old Gbagbo occupies the presidential palace and his ministers appear to exercise control over their departments, while Ouattara is trying to control the levers of state from his heavily defended golf resort.
Gbagbo has appointed his own ministers and insists he is the constitutional president, despite the UN Security Council calling on him to step down.
The November 28 presidential run-off election was supposed to mark a turning point in Ivory Coast`s decade-long crisis and restore constitutional rule to a country divided into rival northern and southern armed camps.
Instead it has deepened divisions, with Gbagbo retaining most military, economic and administrative levers of state, while Ouattara has donned the mantle of international legitimacy.
European Union foreign ministers decided to impose "a visa ban and an assets freeze" against Gbagbo`s supporters, a statement said.