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U.N. Stays In Ivory Coast As Power Struggle Continues

U.N. troops patrol inside their headquarters in Ivory Coast on Sunday.
U.N. troops patrol inside their headquarters in Ivory Coast on Sunday.

The international community is turning up the heat on Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast's incumbent president who lost last month's election. He refuses to concede and retains control over the military, the presidential palace and other key buildings.

When the people of Ivory Coast voted three weeks ago, the hope was that the long-delayed election would draw a line under almost a decade of turbulence in what was once a regional haven of stability.

Instead, a post-electoral tussle over who won the vote has plunged the already divided West African nation deeper into turmoil.

An Electoral Outcome No One Wanted

Gbagbo's supporters chanted their disapproval on Saturday against the 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast -- shortly after Gbagbo's government ordered the blue-helmeted troops out of the country immediately.

Gbagbo's camp claims the peacekeepers have not remained neutral in the presidential tug-of-war with his rival and widely recognized president-elect, Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara was declared the winner of last month's vote by the electoral commission, certified by the U.N. and endorsed by African and world leaders.  The Constitutional Council, however, overturned that decision and instead proclaimed that Gbagbo had won. Ouattara remains holed up in a hotel as events develop.

U.N. Says It's Staying

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insists the U.N. mission will remain in Ivory Coast and warns that any attack on his forces is an attack on the international community.  The U.N. spokesman in Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, says the peacekeepers have the green light to return fire if they need to.

"They have rules of engagement, so of course they know what to do and how to do it," Toure says. "They don't want clashes with troops loyal to Gbagbo."

"But, of course, we have a strong mandate and our soldiers know what to do when need be," he added.

On Thursday, troops loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara clashed in Abidjan, leaving at least 20 dead in what was billed to be a peaceful march by Ouattara's supporters.

President Obama and other international leaders say Gbagbo must go now -- peacefully or face sanctions.  The political stand-off has paralyzed the economy in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa-exporting nation.

"What we fear really is a confrontation between the two camps," says Jean-Louis Billon, head of Ivory Coast's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"We're afraid that war is now inevitable and people will suffer -- no revenue, no work," he says. "They have to meet and find a solution in order for this country to recover."

It's a view shared by many increasingly desperate Ivorians.

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Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.