African leaders try persuading Ivory Coast leader to step down

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- West African leaders gave persuasion another chance Monday, trying to get Laurent Gbagbo to surrender the presidency to the internationally recognized election winner before resorting to military intervention.

The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde also visited last week without result, and this time they were being joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. No developments were immediately announced.

Results tallied by the country's electoral commission and certified by the United Nations showed Gbagbo lost the November election by a nearly 9-point margin to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo has clung to power with the backing of the army, and human rights groups accuse his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents. The U.N. says it also has been barred entry from two suspected mass graves.

A Ouattara spokesman said Gbagbo still has options on the table if he goes peacefully, but that those opportunities will dwindle if he refuses to go.

The three visiting presidents represent the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-member regional bloc that is threatening military action to seat Ouattara. Kenya's prime minister is representing the African Union.

Gbagbo, who came to power in 2000 and ruled during a brief civil war, overstayed his mandate that expired in 2005, claiming the country was too unstable to organize a poll. The election was finally held after it had been scheduled and then canceled at least six times.

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