, ABIDJAN, Dec 30 – Defiant Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo\’s most notorious lieutenant urged the strongman\’s diehard supporters to launch an unarmed assault on rival Alassane Ouattara\’s UN-defended base.
West African diplomatic moves to save the fragile country from civil war took on new urgency when Gbagbo\’s "Street General," Charles Ble Goude, told youths to storm Ouattara\’s heavily-protected Abidjan hotel headquarters.
Ouattara\’s new United Nations ambassador Youssoufou Bamba meanwhile gave a stark warning as he received his credentials from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"We are on the brink of genocide, something should be done," he said.
And the chief UN peacekeeper, Alain Le Roy, accused Gbagbo\’s state media of "inciting hatred" against UN troops to turn the population against them and make their already dangerous mission impossible.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim to have won Ivory Coast\’s November 28 run-off election, but only the latter has been recognised as president by the world community, including the ECOWAS regional group, the United Nations and the European Union.
Gbagbo\’s forces dominate the south, home to the world\’s largest cocoa-exporting industry and the commercial capital Abidjan.
His troops have cornered Ouattara\’s shadow government in his former campaign headquarters, a luxury golf resort on the outskirts of the city protected by a cordon of 800 UN peacekeepers and supplied by helicopter.
"From January 1, I, Charles Ble Goude and the youth of Ivory Coast are going to liberate the Golf Hotel with our bare hands," the leader of Gbagbo\’s radical Young Patriots told a cheering crowd in Abidjan on Wednesday.
Political showman Ble Goude is best known for stoking bloody anti-French riots in 2004, a role that saw him placed under UN sanctions.
Gbagbo has ordered French and UN troops to leave Ivory Coast — a demand they have rejected, insisting they recognise only Ouattara\’s rule — and the UN "Blue Helmets" face growing pressure around the city.
Facts: UN peacekeepers on \’dangerous\’ mission in I.Coast
On Tuesday, a Bangladeshi soldier was wounded by a machete blow during a mob attack and a UN truck was burnt out by pro-Gbagbo demonstrators.
The United Nations estimates that at least 173 people have been killed in post-election violence, many dragged from their homes at night by pro-Gbagbo forces, while more than 19,000 refugees have fled the country.
Three West African heads of state flew to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to warn Gbagbo to hand over power to his internationally-recognised rival or face military action, but left without a clear result, promising to return.
"We are still talking," said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, chairman of the regional bloc ECOWAS and leader of its military powerhouse. "People are negotiating. We are discussing. That is why they are going back."
The foreign minister of Cape Verde, one of the states that delivered the ultimatum, said the region had dropped the threat of invasion "for now," but ECOWAS and Nigerian officials confirmed military planning had begun.
A senior diplomat said officers were meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja about "military planning … and the logistics" of any eventual operation.
Presidents Boni Yayi of Benin, Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde had gone to Abidjan to deliver Gbagbo an ultimatum: cede power or face the prospect of an intervention by ECOWAS forces.
The troika then flew on to Abuja to brief Nigeria\’s Jonathan, who admitted the envoys had not broken the deadlock and said they would return on Monday.
"The mediators\’ mission confirmed that Laurent Gbagbo is no longer president, it is only his departure that is being negotiated," Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi said. "The military option stays on the table."
Gbagbo\’s diplomatic isolation has increased.
French officials said the European Union would only accept ambassadors from Ivory Coast named by Ouattara. His supporters have already taken control of the Paris embassy.
US officials said Ouattara\’s nominee as ambassador would be welcomed, even though the Ivorian embassy there said the current envoy remained "at work."
And Canada said it no longer recognized the Ivory Coast ambassador appointed by Gbagbo.