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Ivory Coast on brink of "genocide" - envoy to U.N.

ABIDJAN/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Political unrest following Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential election has brought the West African country to the “brink of genocide,” its new ambassador to the United Nations said.

Supporters of Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo hold aloft an Ivory Coast national flag during a rally in Yopougon, Abidjan December 29, 2010. REUTERS/ Thierry Gouegnon

World leaders have stepped up pressure on incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo to quit in favour of Alassane Ouattara, widely recognised as having won the vote.

Youssoufou Bamba, appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Ouattara, described him as the rightful ruler of Ivory Coast.

“He has been elected in a free, fair, transparent, democratic election. The result has been proclaimed by the independent electoral commission, certified by the U.N.,” Bamba told a news conference on Wednesday.

“To me the debate is over, now you are talking about how and when Mr. Gbagbo will leave office,” Bamba said.

He said there had been a “massive violation of human rights,” with more than 170 people killed during street demonstrations in Ivory Coast.

“Thus, one of the messages I try to get across during the conversations I have conducted so far, is to tell we are on the brink of genocide. Something should be done,” Bamba told journalists.

Bamba said he planned to meet every member of the United Nations Security Council.

“I intend to meet all the 15 members. I will meet all of them to explain to them the gravity of the situation ... We expect the United Nations to be credible and the United Nations to prevent violation and to prevent the election to be stolen from the people,” Bamba said.

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The November 28 election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa growing nation, after a 2002-3 civil war. But the dispute over the results has provoked lethal street clashes and threatens to restart open conflict.

The U.N. General Assembly last week recognised Ouattara as Ivory Coast’s legitimate president by unanimously deciding that the list of diplomats he submitted to the world body be recognized as the sole official representatives of Ivory Coast at the United Nations.


West African regional bloc ECOWAS has threatened to use force to oust Gbagbo if he does not leave quietly, and rebels still running the north after the civil war have said they would join any intervention.

“We will fight alongside the ECOWAS force to remove Laurent Gbagbo from power,” said spokesman Affousy Bamba by telephone on Thursday. “We are awaiting ECOWAS’ decision.”

A delegation of three West African heads of state will return to Ivory Coast next week in an effort to persuade Gbagbo, president since 2000, to cede power to Ouattara or risk facing “legitimate force.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, chair of ECOWAS, said a decision would be made after the talks and added that he hoped for a peaceful outcome.

A military official told journalists in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Thursday that ECOWAS defence chiefs were meeting in Nigeria’s defence headquarters to map out strategies in the event Gbagbo refused to cede power.

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The United States and European Union have slapped sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut his financing in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.

Some 16,000 Ivorians have fled the country for Liberia, and the U.N. is preparing for the number to nearly double.

The turmoil has pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs amid fears it could eventually disrupt exports. Ivory Coast’s Eurobond hit a record low last week on concern that the country would not meet a nearly $30 million bond payment due on December 31.

Gbagbo has shown no sign of giving in to the pressure and has accused former colonial power France of orchestrating an international plot alongside the United States to remove him from power. The French government dismissed the allegations as groundless.

Business and traffic in Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan was near normal on Thursday.

Reporting by Ange Aboa in Abidjan, Felix Onuah in Abuja, and Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Mark Trevelyan