WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama called on Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday to stand down immediately and order his fighters to lay down their arms to end post-election violence in the West African country.
Obama said he supported the role of U.N. peacekeepers trying to protect civilians as forces loyal to Gbagbo's political rival waged a fierce assault. He also welcomed the efforts of French forces supporting that mission.
The United Nations says Alassane Ouattara bested Gbagbo in a presidential election in November, but Gbagbo insists he won and has refused to cede power. The country has been plunged into violence as Ouattara's forces have sought to Gbagbo.
"Tragically, the violence that we are seeing could have been averted had Laurent Gbagbo respected the results of last year's presidential election," Obama said.
"To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former President Gbagbo must stand down immediately, and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms. Every day that the fighting persists will bring more suffering, and further delay the future of peace and prosperity that the people of Cote D'Ivoire deserve," Obama said.
Obama also said the United States joined other nations in "deep concern" about reports of massacres in western Ivory Coast and welcomed Ouattara's pledge to ensure that those who have carried out attacks against civilians will be held accountable.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Doina Chiacu)