Ivory Coast's Gbagbo Faces Threat From Neighbors

" (AP)
West African leaders are giving the man who refuses to leave Ivory Coast's presidency a final chance to hand over power and are threatening to remove Laurent Gbagbo by force if needed, though doubts exist about whether the operation could be carried out.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said at least 14,000 people have fled the violence and political chaos in Ivory Coast, some walking for up to four days with little food to reach neighboring Liberia. At least one child drowned while trying to cross a river.

The U.N. has said at least 173 people have been killed in violence over the disputed presidential runoff election held nearly one month ago, heightening fears that the country once divided in two could return to civil war. The toll is believed to be much higher, though, as the U.N. mission has been blocked from investigating other reports including an allegation of a mass grave.

On Sunday, the interior minister appointed by Gbagbo accused the U.N. of only telling half the story.

""The government of Ivory Coast denounces the lack of objectivity and balance in the procedures carried out by the U.N. Human Rights Council,"" said Emile Guirieoulou, the interior minister. He said that at least 36 of the victims were police or other security forces who ""were targeted by gunfire coming from the protesters.""

Guirieoulou also alleged that the thousands of refugees arriving in Liberia had fled violence perpetrated by rebels who support Alassane Ouattara, the man who the international community says won the vote.

Gbagbo has been in power since 2000 and had already overstayed his mandate by five years when the long-delayed presidential election was finally held in October. The vote was intended to help reunify the country, which was divided by the 2002-2003 civil war into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. "