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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-23

West African leaders gather in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja for a two-day summit Wednesday that will include talks on Ivory Coast's deadly political crisis, after earlier threats of force failed to compel incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to cede power.

AFP - West African leaders gather for a summit on Wednesday that will include discussion on Ivory Coast's crisis, with an earlier threat to use force having failed to convince Laurent Gbagbo to step down.

Three months after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened the use of force to oust the Ivory Coast strongman, he has remained defiant and the country stands on the brink of civil war.

An ECOWAS spokesman played down expectations ahead of the two-day regular summit of the 15-nation bloc in the Nigerian capital Abuja, saying the African Union is now heading up efforts to resolve the crisis.

The leaders are to study a report from ECOWAS's mediation and security council on Ivory Coast.

"It's just to update them on those developments... so that they can be kept abreast of the situation there," Sunny Ugoh told AFP. "We will continue with what the AU is doing and then see where to go from there."

An African Union Peace and Security Council meeting had previously been announced for Thursday in Abuja as well, but it was unclear whether it would still be held.

In December, ECOWAS suspended Ivory Coast from the bloc, recognised Gbagbo rival Alassane Ouattara as president and threatened the use of force if Gbagbo did not step down peacefully.

But the potential use of force seems to have since been put on the back burner.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia has said the UN must endorse any use of force to remove Gbagbo, adding that a blockade was an option if peaceful efforts fail.

That has raised questions over whether such a measure would face opposition at the UN Security Council from countries such as China or Russia.

The crisis has meanwhile only intensified following the disputed November election, with violent clashes between pro-Gbagbo forces and those backing Ouattara, who is internationally recognised as the rightful winner of the vote.

According to the UN, at least 440 people have been killed.

The Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group on Wednesday said West African heads of state must decide on the creation of a military mission to protect Ivory Coast civilians.

"Cote d'Ivoire is no longer on the brink of civil war; it has already begun," it said in an open letter to ECOWAS leaders.

A Western diplomat on Tuesday said any military action risked exacerbating already rising tensions, but some observers warn there is no more room for handwringing.

"I don't think they have the luxury of multiple options on the table," said Christopher Fomunyoh, an expert on Africa with the Washington-based think tank the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

"They either have to come out strongly in order to be consistent or completely lose face in the face of another African disaster in the making."

Another Western diplomat said "for political and practical reasons" the summit was unlikely to come up with "much" except condemning the deepening unrest and reiterating its demands for Gbagbo to go.

In addition, an ECOWAS court last week temporarily restrained the bloc from using force in Ivory Coast after a lawsuit filed on behalf of Gbagbo.

Some have suggested sanctions could be an option for ECOWAS, but Gbagbo has remained defiant in the face of such measures already slapped against him and his leadership by the European Union and the United States.

The summit will have other business to attend to as well.

It will review decisions suspending from the bloc Guinea and Niger -- both of which recently held elections to transfer power from military regimes. A decision will also be made on Chad's request for observer status with ECOWAS.

Postponed from its initially scheduled date in February, the summit is expected to decide on who will be chairman for the next year as well. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is the current ECOWAS chairman.

Date created : 2011-03-23


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