France demands Gbagbo hold back Ivory Coast troops

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France demanded Sunday that Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo hold back his troops, as tensions escalated in his standoff with Alassane Ouattara, declared winner of presidential elections.

"If he does not want to have deaths on his conscience, he needs to hold back his troops," Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told French media.

Longtime ruler Gbagbo has refused to stand down after disputed November 28 elections and retains control of the southern armed forces, with Ouattara backed by former rebel fighters from the north.

Alliot-Marie said Gbagbo faced a choice in the coming hours: "Is he going to be someone who will stay in history as a democrat, or someone who will leave the image of someone who has fired on Ivorians?"

The minister dismissed Gbagbo's demand for UN and international forces to withdraw, but said France's 900 troops in the former French colony would not intervene.

"It is up to the international force to act" if necessary, she said, adding that French troops would defend themselves if directly attacked under international conflict rules.

The UN said Sunday that post-election violence has left more than 50 people dead and more than 200 injured, and warned of human rights violations.

Ouattara's victory in the elections has been recognised by the international community -- including the African Union and the United Nations Security Council.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday called for Gbagbo to quit office by the end of the week to avoid sanctions.

© 2010 AFP

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