Pressure mounts on Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo
Abidjan - The noose of international pressure tightened further around Laurent Gbagbo as the top UN official in Ivory Coast said Gbagbo's challenger had won the presidential election by an "irrefutable margin" and the Security Council warned it would not shy from imposing sanctions.
Gbagbo has shut himself off from the international community, defying French President Nicolas Sarkozy who called to urge him to step down and refusing to take a telephone call over the weekend from US President Barack Obama.
The 65-year-old former university instructor is being threatened with sanctions and isolation, even as his government flooded the airwaves with images of his rushed inauguration and explanations by constitutional experts laying out why Gbagbo is the lawful president.
The head of the UN mission in Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin, explained on Wednesday how he went over the election results again and again before concluding it was "absolutely clear to me that the Ivorian people had made their choice without any doubt".
He said opposition leader Alassane Ouattara won the election outright, refuting Gbagbo's argument that violence and voter intimidation were so widespread in areas where Ouattara won a majority as to invalidate the results from those spots.
Map of violence
Choi showed a map with red dots locating incidences of electoral violence. The majority of the dots were in the west of the country, not the north where Ouattara comes from and where more than half a million of his votes were cancelled.
"I remain absolutely certain that I have found the truth," said Choi in a room crowded with diplomats. "The people have chosen Mr Alassane Ouattara with an irrefutable margin as the winner."
In New York, the Security Council issued a statement saying it condemned "in the strongest possible terms" any effort to subvert the will of the people.
The council warned they were ready to impose targeted sanctions on anyone who threatens the peace or tries to obstruct the work of the UN office in Ivory Coast, whose mission includes verifying and certifying the results of the contested poll according to a 2005 peace deal.
World’s priciest election
Last month's presidential election was delayed at least six times over the past three years and has been called "the world's most expensive election".
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into trying to stabilise the West African country, and identify voters amid convoluted rules over citizenship that were at the heart of the country's civil war.
The election was supposed to be the final step in a drawn-out process to reunite the country. Instead it appears to have plunged the nation into another tailspin.
World condemnation of Gbagbo's actions has been swift, but it remains unclear what foreign powers can do to make him step down if he refuses to do so voluntarily.
Ouattara's camp has asked for the UN to force Gbagbo out through military intervention, but it appears unlikely that the nearly 10 000-strong peacekeeping force will do anything more than protect the internationally recognised president who is holed up in a luxury hotel.
Asked if the UN was willing to use force to impose the results of the vote, Choi told reporters they were looking for a solution without violence.
Diplomats say the mounting pressure is beginning to yield results and on Wednesday for the first time, Gbagbo's camp spoke about the possibility of a power-sharing agreement. Although the suggestion was rejected outright by Ouattara's side, it indicates a softening of Gbagbo's stance.