By Nangayi Guyson – Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has rejected a deadline set by his rival for him to stand down, saying the international community is trying to stage a coup against him.
Alassane Ouattara’s supporters said Mr Gbagbo would have “no difficulties” if he resigned before 0000 GMT on Friday but Mr Gbagbo said the country could face greater violence if he were to leave office.
In an address for the new year, Mr Gbagbo said the pressure for him to quit amounted to “an attempted coup d’etat carried out under the banner of the international community”.
However, the UN says some 200 people have been killed or have disappeared in the past month – mostly supporters of Mr Ouattara.
It says it has received reports of at least two mass graves and has been repeatedly blocked from investigating one of them, on the outskirts of Abidjan. The other reported site lies in the centre of the country.
The Gbagbo government has repeatedly denied the existence of any mass graves.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has written to Mr Gbagbo to tell him he could be held criminally accountable for abuses.
Some of Ivory Coast’s neighbours have threatened to oust Mr Gbagbo by force.
But analysts say intervention in Ivory Coast would be far more difficult than West Africa’s previous operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The UK has said it would back military intervention, if sanctioned by the UN.
Alassane Ouattara is widely recognised as the winner in elections last month and is holed up in a hotel in the main city, Abidjan, protected by UN peacekeepers.
Some of Mr Gbagbo’s allies have threatened to storm the hotel – a threat which UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said could spark renewed civil war.
Mr Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said Ivory Coast was “already in a civil war situation”.
The election on 28 November was intended to reunify the country which has been divided since a 2002 conflict.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said West African regional body Ecowas will decide on “further steps” to address the political standoff in Ivory Coast by Tuesday.