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UN predicts 100,000 could flee I. Coast turmoil

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 – The number of refugees fleeing Ivory Coast\’s political turmoil could triple to over 100,000 in three months amid reports of cholera in the troubled nation\’s main city, the United Nations said.

There are already 32,000 Ivory Coast refugees in neighboring Liberia as growing numbers fear unrest between followers of political rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, according to UN figures.

"UN agencies have voiced concerns that if the current trends in refugee influx continue, by mid-February there could be as many as 50,000 refugees in Liberia and 100,000 by the end of April," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.

Many roads in Liberia are expected to become blocked by the rainy season in April and the United Nations fears that much-needed supplies will not get through to reach population centers.

Another 20,000 people have fled their homes in western Ivory Coast, mainly in the Duekoue region, OCHA said. Many already rely on the United Nations for food.

The UN agency said a "cholera epidemic" has been declared in the main city Abidjan. It gave no details of numbers affected but said the World Health Organization, UNICEF and local authorities were distributing hundreds of thousands of bars of soap and chlorine.

Tensions have mounted in the West African nation since Gbagbo refused to stand down as president and hand over power to internationally recognized leader Ouattara.

Ouattara was declared winner of an election intended to reestablish normality after a 2002 civil war that split the country in two for many years.

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