US recognizes Ouattara as rightful I.Coast leader

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States recognizes President Alassane Ouattara as the rightful leader of the west African nation of Ivory Coast, US President Barack Obama said late Friday.

"Last year's election was free and fair," Obama said in a video message to the leaders and people of Ivory Coast. "And President Alassane Ouattara is the democratically-elected leader of the nation."

The message came after the UN Security Council met Friday to discuss a draft resolution introduced by France and Nigeria on a weapons ban in Abidjan.

Many observers argue that Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara has pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Fighting with heavy weapons raged in two northern suburbs of Abidjan Friday near a military barracks where pro-Gbagbo forces said they had repulsed an attack by rebels backing Ouattara.

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As many as one million people have fled their homes as civilian areas are bombarded daily with rockets, mortars and shells.

Clashes between forces backing the two rivals killed 52 people in the past week, the UN estimates, with the total death toll reaching at least 462.

The draft UN resolution demands an end to attacks against the UN mission and civilian populations by the Gbagbo camp and calls for UN forces to protect civilians, according to one diplomat.

Obama warned that if Gbagbo and his supporters continued to cling to power, it would "lead to more violence, more innocent civilians being wounded and killed and more diplomatic and economic isolation."

White House officials said the international community was united in recognizing President Ouattara as the duly elected leader of Ivory Coast.

The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the UN Security Council have all repeatedly called for Gbagbo to step aside immediately, the officials said.

Obama said the United States would continue to seek a peaceful transition of power in Ivory Coast and would be a partner of those who chose democracy.

The people of Ivory Coast deserved "a future of hope, not fear" and it was time for democracy to triumph in the west African nation, he added.

"You deserve leaders like President Ouattara, who can restore your country's rightful place in the world," Obama said.

"And those who choose that path will have a friend and partner in the United States of America."

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