In Ivory Coast, Political Impasse Continues

The stand-off continues in Ivory Coast amid reports of mass graves and threats of more violence.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

It's been another bruising week of political uncertainty and regional mediation in Ivory Coast. For a month now, the West African nation has been crippled by a stand-off between two men who claim to be president. November's election was followed by international pressure on the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, to step aside, but he remains in control of the country's security forces. Meantime, his challenger, Alassane Ouattara, is sheltering in a hotel, guarded by U.N. peacekeepers.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Laurent Gbagbo maintains he is still Ivory Coast's duly elected president and he's refusing to go, despite pressure and targeted tensions piling up on him and his close associates. African and world leaders are demanding that Gbagbo hands over power to Alassane Ouattara, his presidential rival who was declared the winner of last month's vote by Ivory Coast's electoral commission, satisfied by the U.N. peacekeeping mission there.

West African presidents warned that if Gbagbo doesn't bow out, they may use military force to remove him. But he remains defiant and told Euro News television if he's forced to resign, that could further divide an already turbulent Ivory Coast.

President LAURENT GBAGBO (Ivory Coast): (Through translator) If I said I would leave office right now, who could provide an assurance that it would bring peace and that it would not bring even greater violence.

QUIST-ARCTON: Meanwhile, the U.N. reports at least 173 killings by pro-Gbagbo forces. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, has warned senior Ivory Coast officials, including Gbagbo, that they could be held criminally accountable for violations. U.N. investigators in Ivory Coast say Gbagbo loyalists are preventing them from checking on a possible mass grave. Simon Munzu is human rights director at the peacekeeping mission.

Mr. SIMON MUNZU (U.N. Human Rights Director): We're stopped by security forces from going to our destination. The attitude taken by elements of the security forces just as many of the population in Gbagbo's camp is that we are no longer welcome in Cote d'Ivoire.

QUIST-ARCTON: Laurent Gbagbo has ordered the 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force out of his country, but the man most of the world recognizes as Ivory Coast's president elect, Alassane Ouattara, says such decisions are not longer Gbagbo's perogative because he is no longer the head of state.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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