Russia blocks UN stand against I.Coast's Gbagbo
World powers hustled Wednesday for Ivory Coast's defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to quit after disputed polls but Russia blocked the UN Security Council from taking a joint stand against him.
Ivory Coast's neighbours and world powers piled demands on Gbagbo -- in power since 2000 -- to stand aside for his old rival Alassane Ouattara, to end a potentially explosive standoff that has damaged the economy and raised fears of unrest.
But at the United Nations, Russia left its fellow permanent Security Council members miffed by continuing to block a council statement on the crisis, diplomats said.
With both Gbagbo and Ouattara claiming the presidency of the world's top cocoa grower, Ouattara's rival government pushed on with its programme meanwhile, hoping to ride the wave of international backing and seize the levers of power.
After Gbagbo unveiled his own new cabinet, Ouattara's prime minister Guillaume Soro said his rival government was replacing Ivorian ambassadors in key countries and was "taking measures" to gain control of public finances.
"It is we who have the power. It is now a matter of bringing it into effect," said Soro, leader of the New Forces former rebel movement that controls the north of the country, in a statement.
Gbagbo however retains nominal control of the army and state television channel RTI, denying Ouattara the means to broadcast directly to the Ivorian people he seeks to lead.
There was no further word on Wednesday from Gbagbo, who continues to occupy the presidential palace in Abidjan while Ouattara's government hunkers down in a hotel across town, heavily guarded by UN peacekeepers in armoured cars.
Last month's election was supposed to end a decade of instability in the west African country, stricken by a civil war in 2002-2003, but has instead has lapsed into deadlock that Ivorians fear could break into violence.
Clashes surrounding the election left at least 20 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
Ouattara kept up the attack on Gbagbo on Wednesday, warning: "His intransigence can only expose our country to dangers that damage it further."
Daily life has picked up in the main city Abidjan after several days of tense quiet and the borders, locked down by Gbagbo at the height of the election dispute, have reopened.
But residents complained that the price of essentials such as rice and butane gas has doubled, and the crisis is threatening the country's cocoa exports, driving up futures prices to a four-month high on Tuesday.
Soro, a former rebel, has several thousand New Forces troops behind him and has warned they could mobilise if Gbagbo does not cede power, but stressed: "We are not yet at the stage of using force."
Non-essential UN staff have nevertheless begun evacuating and Liberian officials say hundreds of people fearing violence have crossed into Liberia from western Ivory Coast.
Members of the UN Security Council have been trying to agree a common statement that could tip the balance in Ouattara's favour, but Russia held up the process, a diplomat told AFP.
"We are bewildered" by Russia's stance, said a Western diplomat.
Some analysts say Ouattara may be forced to reach out to Gbagbo to stabilise the country, but the president of regional grouping ECOWAS Goodluck Jonathan said that bloc did not want a negotiated unity government there.
"From the experience we have had so far in Kenya and in Zimbabwe, it has never really worked and that's why we don't want to contemplate that," the Nigerian president Jonathan added.
African Union Chairman Bingu wa Mutharika on Wednesday demanded Gbagbo "respect the will of the people" and stand down. US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley repeated a call for Gbagbo to quit for "a peaceful transition."
South Africa, whose former president Thabo Mbeki is a mediator in the crisis, added its voice to these calls in a government statement, urging Gbagbo to "respect and abide by the declarations" of the AU and ECOWAS.
© 2010 AFP