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Ivory Coast opposition wants President Gbagbo ousted by force

Ivory Coast opposition leader and internationally recognized President-elect Alassane Ouattara urged international bodies to force Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency.

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Ouattara has also sought to use financial pressure to force Gbagbo out, appealing to the West African central bank (BCEAO) to cut off his access to state coffers, making it impossible to pay civil servants and soldiers. Such a move could set the stage for mass defections and turn the tide against Gbagbo.

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The latest international pressure Wednesday to force Gbagbo out comes amid rising concerns about violence in Ivory Coast. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that Ivory Coast faces "a real risk" of return to civil war.

Over the weekend, masked gunmen opened fire on the UN base in Ivory Coast, though no one from the global body was harmed in the attack. Two military observers were wounded in another attack. The UN also says armed men have been intimidating UN staff at their private homes.

A Gbagbo adviser said he didn't believe soldiers or people close to Gbagbo would carry out such acts.

The UN chief also has expressed concern about fighters from neighboring countries entering into the growing political crisis in Ivory Coast.

Asked Wednesday Ban plans to do about the mercenaries, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said: "We believe that it is a matter of concern that people are being brought in from outside and we will continue to raise this in all our various venues."

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy, on Tuesday said there appeared to be mercenaries "from Liberia and, perhaps, Angola" in Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who successfully mediated a solution to Kenya's postelection violence, said he was concerned about the escalating violence in Ivory Coast and called on Gbagbo "to step aside and respect the will of the people."

"They have chosen Alassane Ouattara and no repression, however brutal and long, can undo this decision nor Mr. Ouattara's legitimacy," said Annan, who is from Ghana.

Annan called on Ivory Coast's military and police forces to protect the civilian population, adding: "I am proud of the many people in Ivory Coast who are standing up against the current injustice and repression. ... They can take comfort in the fact that the entire world stands by them."

Ivory Coast's 2002-2003 civil war saw the involvement of Liberians fighting on nearly all sides of the conflict. Liberia itself suffered brutal back-to-back civil wars that lasted until 2003, and the two countries share a porous, 370-mile-(600-kilometer)-long border. Liberia's president has urged citizens not to get involved in Ivory Coast's latest political crisis.

Hundreds of UN troops are protecting the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is based, but they are encircled by forces loyal to Gbagbo. UN Special Representative Choi Young-jin said that a blockade was lifted Wednesday and UN supply trucks are now able to bring in food, water and needed medications that weren't getting through after Gbagbo imposed the blockade last week.

Gbagbo said late Tuesday that people could also leave the Golf Hotel, but Ouattara's people say they're still not venturing out for fear of a trap.

"Mice don't trust smiling cats," said senior Ouattara adviser Amadou Coulibaly.

Ivory Coast was once an economic hub because of its role as the world's top cocoa producer. The 2002-2003 civil war split the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. While the country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, Ouattara still draws his support from the northern half of the country where he was born while Gbagbo's power base is in the south.

Gbagbo claimed victory in the presidential election only after his allies threw out half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the north, a move that infuriated residents there who have long felt they are treated as foreigners in their own country by southerners.

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