Neighbours to remove Ivory Coast president 'by force'
West African leaders are giving the man who refuses to leave Ivory Coast's presidency a final chance to hand over power and are threatening to remove him by force if needed.
Three West African presidents are due to fly to Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, tomorrow to tell Laurent Gbagbo to quit or be ousted by force.
Mr Gbagbo, who is refusing to step down in the wake of post-election violence, said last night that any attempt to remove him would be met by force.
Yesterday, Sierra Leone's information ministry said that three leaders from the region would pay him a visit.
"In the spirit of brotherliness in Africa, three presidents have been nominated by their colleagues to confront Mr Gbagbo in Abidjan to encourage him to leave office without delay," the ministry said. "The three can fly back with Mr Gbagbo, as all West African countries are prepared to grant him asylum."
Michael Espy, the US agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton, predicted that "renewed civil war is inevitable" if the crisis was not defused.
He was one of two Clinton-era veterans who were lobbying on behalf of the regime as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led US demands that Mr Gbagbo accept defeat by Alassane Ouattara in last month's presidential run-off.
"President Gbagbo is very clear that he's not backing down," Mr Espy said after meeting the Ivorian leader in Abidjan. "He is absolutely certain that this election was stolen by the rebel forces in the north."
Mr Gbagbo's defiance comes in the face of condemnation by his West African neighbours, the United Nations, the US and Europe.
Last night, his presidential plane was held in Switzerland at the request of Mr Ouattara after it had made a routine stop. Mr Gbagbo was not on board.
On Friday, the Economic Community of West African States held an emergency summit and said that if he did not go "the community will be left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people".
Mr Espy said: "If any move is made by the UN or other forces to jeopardise the safety or position of the president, his supporters would come out. There would be resistance."
Government sources said they believed support for Mr Gbagbo was wavering among some senior army officers and any military action would be met with little serious opposition. (© Daily Telegraph, London)