Ivory Coast's Gbagbo will talk
Abidjan - Laurent Gbagbo gave new assurances on Tuesday that he is open to talks over the tussle for the Ivory Coast presidency as regional leaders mulled military intervention to break the deadlock.
Gbagbo had accepted an offer of talks with his rival Alassane Ouattara made on Monday by African Union mediator in the weeks-long crisis Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his spokesperson said.
There was "an offer of dialogue between the two camps. It was accepted... a meeting depends on the response of the Ouattara camp," Ahoua Don Mello said.
Ouattara's team would not immediately comment.
Gbagbo has said before that he is willing to talk with his rival over the dispute but he has refused all offers to give up the presidency peacefully, including exile and immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity.
Ouattara was recognised as [the] winner of a November 28 election by the Ivory Coast's voting authority and the international community. Gbagbo, who has ruled the world's top coco-producing nation for 10 years, was declared victor by the Constitutional Council.
He retains control of the presidential palace and the army, while Ouattara is based in an Abidjan hotel under protection from northern ex-rebels and some 800 peacekeepers.
Odinga held talks with both men on Monday, describing his meeting with Gbagbo as "very useful".
"We have had very fruitful discussions with president Ouattara and... subject to certain conditions being met, there may be some discussions further tomorrow," he added.
With mounting fears of a return to civil war that have sent thousands fleeing across the border, the United Nations Security Council was to vote on Tuesday to send 2 000 extra troops into the West African nation.
Regional military chiefs meanwhile opened two days of talks in Mali on Tuesday that will finalise a last-ditch plan to use force to remove Gbagbo, but France warned of the risk of heavy casualties.
Pro-Ouattara suburbs of Abidjan were shut down on Tuesday by a general strike called to add pressure on but elsewhere in the city it was business as usual, AFP reporters said.
"We are tired of these disruptions... We want to go about our business," complained a woman in the Abobo suburb where public transport was disrupted, and shops and schools shut.
The UN Security Council vote on Tuesday to send in 2 000 extra troops will bring the UNOCI force up to about 11 000 troops.
The new number is the maximum requested by UN commanders who fear a growing showdown with Gbagbo, whose forces have attacked UN vehicles and peacekeepers.
Gbagbo has demanded several times that UN forces leave.
Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) military chiefs meeting in Bamako would work off a report drawn up in December which envisages Nigeria at the head of a regional intervention force and the deployment of combat troops and attack helicopters, a participant told AFP.
"Our preparations are very advanced and we are ready to move into action if necessary and that must be clear," senior Nigerian officer Olusegun Petinrin said.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali and Togo are expected to take part to varying degrees, according to the report. Niger is still to confirm its participation.
Ghana has ruled out sending troops.
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie warned in Paris however: "The use of force should only be considered as a very last resort because given the balance of the armed forces there would be the risk of a high number of casualties."
The United Nations appealed on Tuesday for $88m to ward off a looming "humanitarian crisis" that could affect two million Ivorians.
More than 25 400 people have fled Ivory Coast, the overwhelming majority of them - more than 25 000 - to neighbouring Liberia, it said.