UPDATE 1-Countries warn Ivory Coast violence could escalate

Thu Dec 23, 2010 7:12am EST

* U.S. increases death toll estimate in Ivory Coast

* African countries push issue in 47-member U.N. body (Adds quotes, details)

By Laura MacInnis and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Nearly 200 people have been killed in Ivory Coast political violence that must be halted and fully investigated, the United States told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday.

At a special session in Geneva, requested by African states, rich and poor countries roundly condemned grave human rights violations committed since last month's disputed presidential election and raised concerns that they could escalate.

"We have credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others have been snatched from their home in the middle of the night," U.S. ambassador Betty E. King said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Sunday that more than 50 people had died so far. [ID:nLDE6BI0GF]

Earlier on Thursday, Ivory Coast's army said it stands behind presidential incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is under international pressure to quit after a Nov. 28 election that major powers say he lost to rival Alassane Ouattara.

The prime minister of Ouattara's rival government, Guillaume Soro, has said the "only solution" to the crisis that risks rekindling civil war in Ivory Coast was for world leaders to use force to oust him if other measures fail. [ID:nLDE6BM0LR]

King told the 47 member-state U.N. body, where developing states often vote as a bloc, that there was widespread agreement that the insecurity spreading in Abidjan needed to be stopped before it worsens.

"We stand united in this Council and with the international community in support of the people of Cote d'Ivoire in their rightful exercise of democratic processes and condemn all human rights violations and abuses in Cote d'Ivoire," King said.

"We call for the immediate end to the violence and the other abuses and violations, and we will work to ensure that those responsible for these human rights violations will be held accountable."

She also voiced concern that media outlets controlled by Gbagbo were broadcasting hate speech and inciting violence against certain ethnic groups and political opponents. U.N. staff in the country were also being harassed and threatened.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the West African bloc ECOWAS have all recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the election 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 on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over $800 million. [ID:nLDE6BL107]

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