By Marco Chown Oved
Sunday, December 19, 2010; A17
ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST - The man who refuses to step down as Ivory Coast's president ordered thousands of U.N. peacekeepers to leave the country immediately Saturday, calling the global body that has endorsed his political rival an "agent of destabilization."
The move was the latest act of political defiance by Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000 and maintains he is the rightful winner of last month's runoff vote in the West African nation, despite growing international pressure on him to concede defeat.
The statement read on state television came two days after as many as 30 people had been killed in street violence in Ivory Coast. Earlier Saturday, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. base here; no one from the United Nations was harmed in the attack.
Gbagbo's spokeswoman said Saturday that the U.N. mission, known as UNOCI, has not remained neutral in the election dispute and accused it of arming the New Forces rebels allied with opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.
The United Nations certified results showing that Ouattara had won by "an irrefutable margin." Ivory Coast had invited the world body to supervise the vote and certify the outcome following a peace accord after the country's 2002-03 civil war.
"The state of Ivory Coast considers that the UNOCI has shown itself to be guilty of serious misconduct, which indubitably proves that it is an agent of destabilization and contributes to the further division of the Ivorian people," she said.
In New York, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy was holding an emergency meeting of his department's crisis team to discuss a response to Gbagbo's request, said a U.N. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It remains unclear what weight Gbagbo's demand would have since the United Nations doesn't consider him to be president.
There are about 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers in the country, and about 800 of them have been protecting the compound from which Ouattara is trying to govern the country.
Gbagbo also called for the departure of about 900 French forces who have been supporting the U.N. peacekeepers.
Although the United States, France and the African Union have endorsed Ouattara as the rightful winner of the election, Gbagbo maintains control of both the military and state media.
- Associated Press