, ABIDJAN, Dec 10 – Pressure on Laurent Gbagbo to quit power in Ivory Coast after a disputed presidential poll was intensifying on Friday after world powers froze him out and domestic rivals sought the army\’s allegiance.
After the African Union (AU) suspended Ivory Coast from its ranks and the United States warned of sanctions, the rival administration set up by Alassane Ouattara called on the military recognise him as head of state.
"The government demands that the Security and Defence Forces carry out their republican mission under President Alassane Ouattara, the supreme chief of the armed forces," said Ouattara\’s government in a statement.
The call intensified efforts to squeeze Gbagbo, who faces growing isolation amid pressure to step down from major international powers including the UN Security Council, the African Union and other regional players.
Ouattara\’s side earlier said it aimed to make "effective" its authority in Ivory Coast this week, but Gbagbo has not yet formally responded and Ivorians were waiting anxiously for his next move.
Ouattara\’s side also demanded "all state officials and agents… to stop working with Laurent Gbagbo\’s illegitimate government immediately and wait for instructions from Prime Minister Guillaume Soro," the former rebel named as head of the rival cabinet.
"We are going to try to get him out without causing any damage," said a senior official close to Soro, referring to Gbagbo.
But an official close to Ouattara told AFP: "Time is against us."
And an official in the Gbagbo camp said: "President Gbagbo thinks that with a certain amount of lobbying, we will find a solution."
But neither side had ruled out recourse to violence, he warned.
The 53-nation AU\’s decision to suspend Ivory Coast until Ouattara is formally in charge capped Gbagbo\’s growing diplomatic isolation, while the United States also intensified threats to squeeze him.
A letter from US President Barack Obama to Gbagbo "made clear that if he makes the wrong choice … we would look at possible sanctions against him and others if necessary," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Kenya\’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga also demanded Gbagbo accept defeat, warning that Ivory Coast faced "a tragedy Africa cannot afford".
"The international community must hold Mr Gbagbo responsible for the chaos, the loss of lives and destruction of property" in Ivory Coast, Odinga said, as Kenya followed South Africa in rallying behind Ouattara.
France meanwhile said it was on alert to evacuate thousands of its nationals from its former star colony if the situation turned ugly.
"For now violence and tensions have been avoided, and I\’m glad about that," Defence Minister Alain Juppe said in Brussels. "There has not been any particular threat aimed at our citizens but this (evacuation) mechanism is on alert."
The United Nations has already ordered 460 non-essential staff out of the country and foreign companies have evacuated expatriates.
Gbagbo, who retains nominal control of the army and state television, has shown no signs of relaxing his 10-year grip on power in the West African cocoa producer, and has unveiled his own new government.
He remained president after his term expired in 2005 as elections were postponed six times. The second-round runoff was finally held on November 28.
The electoral commission results, endorsed by the United Nations, gave Ouattara victory, but Gbagbo\’s allies overturned them, alleging irregularities. Both men then declared themselves president.
Clashes surrounding the election left at least 20 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
The UN Security Council late Wednesday gave its backing to Ouattara, an international seal of recognition for the leader from the northern, mostly Muslim, half of the divided country.
Amid fears the standoff could signal a return to open conflict in the country, which was split in two by a 2002 civil war, Soro has warned his thousands of New Forces troops could be mobilised if Gbagbo does not give in.
But he stressed: "We are not yet at the stage of using force."