, ABIDJAN, Jan 15 – Ivory Coast\’s internationally recognised leader Alassane Ouattara called Friday for force to oust his strongman rival, two days before Africa\’s mediator in the spiralling crisis returns to Abidjan.
With the world struggling to put pressure on an increasingly entrenched Laurent Gbagbo, the European Union announced a fresh salvo of punitive measures against the incumbent over his refusal to cede power in the cocoa-rich nation.
"I believe seriously that force should be used to remove Mr. Gbagbo," Ouattara said via videolink from the Abidjan hotel where Gbagbo\’s army has besieged him for weeks.
"This is clearly a situation of gross human rights violations," Ouattara told US think tank the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
"I do not want bloodshed," Ouattara said. But Gbagbo, "at some stage has to know", that the situation is serious.
The United Nations and most of the world has said that Ouattara defeated Gbagbo in a November 28 presidential run-off, with over 200 people killed in the ensuing crisis.
The African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS are struggling to mediate the stand-off, shuttling between the two men sworn in as president and brandishing the threat of military intervention as a "last resort".
Ouattara\’s choice for prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro said that only armed intervention could avert a return to civil war.
"A rapid and well-targeted operation would halt the killings and end the chaos," he told the Jeune Afrique news weekly.
Gbagbo\’s government spokesman dismissed the calls for military intervention as "ridiculous".
"It\’s completely ridiculous… force never solved anything in Ivory Coast. There will be no war to resolve this conflict," Ahoua Don Mello told AFP.
Soro and Ouattara are holed up in an Abidjan hotel protected by UN troops, while Gbagbo\’s army controls the city and most of the south of the country. UN observers estimate that 247 people have been killed since mid-December.
The United Nations mission in the country says that Gbagbo\’s supporters have stepped up their attacks on peacekeepers there, with several UN vehicles torched on Thursday, although Gbagbo\’s camp has denied involvement.
Diplomats in Brussels said the EU had frozen the European assets of Gbagbo and 84 members of his camp and 11 vital industries, including the board that manages the coffee and cocoa business (CGFCC) in the world\’s top cocoa producer.
On a new list seen by AFP are also four-star military brass accused of "serious" rights violations.
The EU had already ordered a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife and 57 other Ivorians in late December. The visa ban was expanded on Friday and now totals the 85 people hit by the assets freeze.
The US Treasury last week froze assets belonging to Gbagbo, his wife Simone and three of their inner circle, as he "continues to demonstrate wanton disregard for the will and the well-being" of Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo spokesman Don Mello dismissed the EU\’s action, saying there is "nothing to freeze. These are psychological and political pressures, they won\’t make us afraid. Mr Gbagbo has never opened an account in Europe, he never goes there."
Gbagbo\’s government on Friday passed its budget for 2011, tabling on the economy growing three percent this year — provided it manages to retain control of the industries targeted by the EU freezes.
In the most serious recent attack on the UN, three peacekeeping troops were injured when they were attacked on Tuesday in Abidjan\’s Abobo district, largely loyal to Ouattara, after Gbagbo\’s Defence and Security Forces (FDS) moved in.
Gbagbo has slapped a night-time curfew on the area after 11 people died in violence there, and warned that the curfew could be extended.
The African Union\’s mediator in the crisis, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is due back in Abidjan on Sunday, his spokesman said.
Odinga\’s first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator by the continental body ended on January 5 with little tangible progress after Gbagbo failed to make good on promises that mediators said he made.
The UN wants to send up to 2,000 extra peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, but a planned Security Council meeting to vote the extra troops has been put back until Tuesday, diplomats said.