Ivorian army says unified behind Gbagbo despite pressure

* Army spokesman says military united behind Gbagbo

* Ouattara aide says force may be needed to oust incumbent

* U.S. considering move to boost peacekeeping force

By Tim Cocks

ABIDJAN, Dec 23 (BestGrowthStock) – Ivory Coast’s army stands united
behind incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, a spokesman said, after a top
aide of rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said world
leaders may have to use force to oust him.

Gbagbo is under international pressure to quit after a Nov.
28 election they say he lost to Ouattara, deepening a dispute in
the West African state that has already killed 50 people and
threatened to rekindle a civil war.

“There is no doubt about the cohesion as perfect brothers in
arms of the security and defence forces,” army spokesman Babri
Gohourou said in an address on state TV late on Wednesday. “(We)
also reaffirm our unfailing attachment to the president.”

The comment came hours after the prime minister of
Ouattara’s rival government, Guillaume Soro, said the “only
solution” to the crisis was for world leaders to use force to
oust him if other measures fail.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union,
the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS have all
recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the
winner of the poll and have called on Gbagbo to step down.

The United States and the European Union have also since
slapped travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the
World Bank said on Wednesday it froze funding to the country, to
which it has aid commitments of over $800 million.

Ministers from the West African Economic and Monetary Union
bloc are scheduled to meet later on Thursday in Guinea-Bissau to
discuss Ivory Coast, a bank official told Reuters.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on Wednesday he
had talked to Malian President Amandou Toumani Toure about
getting the bloc to also freeze loans to Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and
insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court
headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of
votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.

The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles
broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who
now back Ouattara, and residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods
have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and
kidnapping people [ID:nLDE6BL0P3].

The turmoil in the world’s top cocoa-producing country has
boosted cocoa prices to recent four-month highs (CCc2: ) (LCCc2: ),
disrupting export registrations and raising the possibility
that fighting could block transport and shipping.

The U.S. State Department said Washington was discussing
moves to strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast
with former colonial power France and African states in a move
that could add pressure on Gbagbo.

The United Nations Security Council this week defied Gbagbo
by extending the mandate of the 10,000 strong force.

The election, delayed repeatedly since 2005, was meant to
reunite the country following a 2002-03 civil war that split it
in two, but it has instead aggravated divisions.

France advised its 13,000 citizens now in the country to
leave as the risk of conflict grows. Germany and Britain also
advised against travel there and urged citizens to leave.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Ivorian army says unified behind Gbagbo despite pressure