Obama, Sarkozy and Ban tell I. Coast president to go

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy threw their diplomatic weight Friday behind Alassane Ouattara as winner of Ivory Coast's bitterly disputed presidential election.

The trio told the West African nation's longtime leader Laurent Gbagbo he should admit defeat and withdraw without causing fresh unrest in a country recovering from a decade of civil war and political conflict.

International fears remained acute however after a top aide to Gbagbo threatened to expel a UN envoy from the country for endorsing Ouattara.

Eight people were killed in political violence in Abidjan, the main city, on Wednesday.

Ivory Coast's electoral commission has said Ouattara won Sunday's vote runoff. But the Constitutional Council, which is run by a Gbagbo ally, rejected the announcement and declared Gbagbo the winner.

After a flurry of international calls, UN leader Ban called on Gbagbo, who has been accused of clinging to power, "to do his part for the good of the country and to cooperate in a smooth political transition in the country."

Ban congratulated Ouattara and stressed "that the will of the Ivorian people must be respected," a UN spokesman said in a statement.

He called on all in the country "to work together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation for the stability and prosperity."

"The secretary-general warns those who may incite or perpetrate violence that they will be held accountable," the statement said.

Sarkozy also appealed to Gbagbo and his followers in the former French colony "to respect the will of the people, abstain from any action that might provoke violence" and help establish peace and reconciliation.

Ivory Coast's "Independent Electoral Commission, credible and accredited observers and the United Nations have all confirmed this result and attested to its credibility," Obama said.

Noting the world's top cocoa producer is "at a crossroads," Obama urged Gbagbo to respect the result so the country can "move forward toward a peaceful, democratic future, leaving long years of conflict and missed opportunities in the past."

"The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions," he added.

The UN mission in Ivory Coast, UNOCI, and the international community "will undertake all possible actions, within its mandate to preserve peace and security in the country," Ban said.

There are currently nearly 9,000 peacekeepers and international police in Ivory Coast, where troops were sent after the 2002 civil war. The UN Security Council is due to renew the mission's mandate in December.

The unified international message also came from the European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who backed Ouattara, a former prime minister in the one-time economic powerhouse.

"I call on everybody to remain calm," she said.

"I have taken note of the Security Council's readiness to take appropriate measures against those who obstruct the peace process, and especially the work of the Independent Electoral Commission," Ashton said.

The UN envoy in Ivory Coast Choi Young-jin said he would certify the electoral commission's results and that Ouattara was the winner. Gbagbo's camp threatened to have him expelled.

Amid the turmoil, the 15-nation UN Security Council held consultations on a statement on Ivory Coast.

Diplomats said nothing was expected to be released before Saturday because at least one member was awaiting agreement from its capital on the proposed statement.

© 2010 AFP

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