WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, France and African powers have given embattled Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo an ultimatum to leave the country within “a matter of days” or face punishing sanctions, a U.S. official said Thursday.
“We’ve said clearly that we are prepared to impose sanctions on him and others. He understands what we’re prepared to do and we’ve given him a finite amount of time to make up his mind,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Soldiers loyal to Gbagbo and his rival presidential claimant, Alassane Ouattara, clashed Thursday, escalating fears the world’s top cocoa producer could slip back into the civil war that tore the country apart in 2002 and 2003.
Gbagbo, the incumbent, claimed victory in the November 28 presidential election and rejected as fraudulent the results from the official electoral commission showing Ouattara won.
The United Nations, the United States, African countries and former colonial ruler France have all recognized Ouattara as the winner.
The U.S. Embassy in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, was hit by an errant rocket-propelled grenade Thursday during the violence, which occurred near the hotel where Ouattara and his allies have set up a parallel administration.
“We deplore the use of violence and again call on everyone to remain calm as we continue to work with the international community to help resolve this situation,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Crowley said a joint delegation from the African Union and West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc was due in Abidjan and “would continue to encourage President Gbagbo to step aside.”
The U.S. official said Gbagbo had been given “a matter of days” to decide whether to step down.
“We believe strongly that he is listening attentively to what the United States, France, ECOWAS, the African Union are all making clear to him,” the official said. “He’s got a decision to make and he’s got a limited amount of time to make it.”
The official indicated that Gbagbo would be required to accept exile, although it remained to be determined where.
“He has multiple homes in multiple countries. He has the opportunity to avail himself of any of them. He has to leave,” the official said.
U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month offered to invite Gbagbo to the White House if he respected Ivory Coast’s election and stepped down, but has not received a response.
Obama also warned he would support efforts to isolate Gbagbo and hold him to account if he refused to step down, according to U.S. officials.
The United States has said it is weighing sanctions against Gbagbo and his family if he stayed in power, while European Union foreign ministers have already agreed to target Gbagbo and his associates with sanctions.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Peter Cooney
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