ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – West African leaders who delivered an ultimatum to Laurent Gbagbo to step down or face a military ouster left Ivory Coast late Tuesday without taking him into exile a month after the U.N. said he lost the disputed presidential election.
The delegation led by presidents from Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and Benin held meetings with both Gbagbo and internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara, then returned to meet with Gbagbo a second time before leaving the country.
Gbagbo, the incumbent leader who has been in power for a decade in Ivory Coast, has shown no interest in stepping aside. While Ouattara has been endorsed by most of the world, Gbagbo still maintains control of Ivory Coast’s military and security forces.
The regional leaders had hoped to persuade Gbagbo to leave Ivory Coast with them after their one-day mission, saying he would be offered asylum in neighboring countries.
The 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS threatened to use “legitimate force” if Gbagbo does not relinquish power though it has not publicly specified a deadline.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday commended ECOWAS’ leadership, and said that the United States was prepared “to take even stronger actions – such as financial sanctions – as needed.”
Late Tuesday, Gbagbo’s allies lashed out on state television at the nations that have recognized Ouattara’s representatives as Ivorian ambassadors. Gbagbo’s government “reserves the right to apply the principle of reciprocity by ending the missions of ambassadors of the countries concerned in Ivory Coast,” they said.
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