US says talk of anti-Gbagbo plot `absurd`

US has denied as "absurd" allegations that it had sent mercenaries to the Ivory Coast to oust strongman Laurent Gbagbo, as tensions mounted in the presidential standoff.

Last Updated: Dec 29, 2010, 09:59 AM IST

Washington: US has denied as "absurd"
allegations that it had sent mercenaries to the Ivory Coast to
oust strongman Laurent Gbagbo, as tensions mounted in the
presidential standoff.

"We continue to call on President Gbagbo to respect
the will of the Ivorian people and to step down and let
President-elect (Alassane) Ouattara assume the reins of power
there," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"But to suggest that he has some nefarious plot is
ridiculous," he said.

Toner said Washington would continue to work with the
international community to impose sanctions on Gbagbo and his
supporters as long as he clings to power.

Gbagbo and his long-time rival each declared himself
president after last month`s elections, but Ouattara has been
recognised as the victor by UN vote monitors and world powers
as Gbagbo has refused calls to step down.

Gbagbo`s forces remain firmly in control of Abidjan,
where they have been accused of killings in pro-Ouattara
areas. UN rights officials say at least 173 people have died
in post-election violence.

Gbagbo`s interior minister had earlier accused the US
of sending in a team of "mercenaries" under the guise of
investigating a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) that struck the
embassy on December 16.

Emilie Guirieoulou said the team had in fact landed in
a stronghold of the "New Forces," northern rebel fighters
loyal to Ouattara`s prime minister Guillaume Soro.

The pro-Gbagbo press said the men were Germans hired
by Washington to eliminate the embattled leader.

Pentagon spokesman Major Chris Perrine said an
assessment team had been dispatched from Stuttgart, Germany,
where the US Africa Command is based, in order to assist the
ambassador should he need to evacuate the embassy.

"The team serves as a US military planning liaison
element to the US embassy, should the ambassador request an
evacuation of US citizens that would require US military
support," he said.

PTI