Ivory Coast Election Stalemate Sees Anti-Gbagbo Protests

Tensions were rising in Ivory Coast today, after demonstrators burned tyres in Abidjan to protest against President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down after losing last week's election and opposition leaders warned of taking over by force.

In the commercial capital smoke billowed from neighbourhoods supportive of Alassane Ouattara, who won the election run-off with more than 54% of the vote.

The UN ratified the result but Ivory Coast's constitutional council, headed by a close ally of Gbagbo, overturned the outcome, alleging vote-rigging by the opposition.

Both candidates have since taken oaths of office and appointed prime ministers, strengthening the deadlock. The former South African president Thabo Mbeki has flown in to mediate and try to prevent an outbreak of violence.

""There is big tension here,"" said Venance Konan, a prominent author and journalist, speaking by telephone from Abidjan. ""There is no work – offices are closed and everybody is just at home, waiting.""

The much-delayed poll was supposed to end a decade of political instability and promote unity in a country effectively split into two halves. Gbagbo's government controls the south, while the New Forces rebels, who were involved in the 2002-2003 conflict, exert the most influence in the north, Ouattara's main constituency.Ivory Coast's geography – its neighbours include Liberia and Guinea, which are both trying to emerge from turbulent times – meant a peaceful election outcome was doubly important."