Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara called on Sunday for a nationwide general strike that would shut the country down until internationally isolated incumbent Laurent Gbagbo cedes power.
The country has faced a violent political impasse since a presidential election last month, which was intended to heal the scars of a 2002-03 civil war but has instead ignited bloodshed between the rival camps.
“I can confirm that we have called for a general strike across the nation from tomorrow,” Ouattara’s spokesman Patrick Achi said. He said Ouattara would issue an official statement later on Sunday.
The move adds to international pressure on Gbagbo to step down after the November 28 election, which the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the African Union and West African regional bloc Ecowas all say Ouattara won.
Provisional election results showed an Ouattara victory but the results were overturned by a court led by a Gbagbo ally.
Ecowas has threatened to use force if Gbagbo does not quit.
Three West African presidents are due to fly on today to Ivory Coast to convey the regional body’s ultimatum.
In an interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper on Sunday, Gbagbo said he was taking Ecowas’ threat to forcefully oust him seriously, however he was not worried by it.
“All threats must be taken seriously. But it would be the first time that African countries were willing to go to war against another country because an election went wrong,” Gbagbo said, adding that he was a victim of an international plot.
His interior minister, Emile Guirieoulou, told a news conference Gbagbo’s government would “welcome the three heads of states as brothers and friends, and listen to the message they have to convey”.
The US and EU have slapped travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut off his finances, which means he may soon have trouble paying troops.
The turmoil in the top cocoa grower has boosted cocoa futures to four-month highs, while the country’s Eurobond has dipped to a record low on concern the government will miss a $30 million bond payment of December 31.
Guirieoulou rejected UN allegations of widespread human rights violations by Gbagbo’s security forces, saying the world body was being partisan.
The UN on Thursday put the death toll from the violence at over 170, and the UN refugee agency said on Saturday that 14 000 Ivorians had fled to neighbouring Liberia fearing an escalation.
The UN Human Rights Council issued a declaration condemning human rights violations, including killings and kidnappings, and calling for reconciliation to avert civil war.
Guirieoulou said: “Indeed, they have chosen to focus, before any audit or investigation in the field, on the accusations and allegations by one party, ignoring official records and verifiable post-election incidents provided by the government.”
The UN mission in Ivory Coast on Thursday said masked supporters of Gbagbo armed with rocket launchers had been blocking a road to “a village outside Abidjan where allegations point to existence of a mass grave”.
Guirieoulou said there were no mass graves.
“It has been over a week that people are talking about it, but nobody has seen a mass grave.”
In a sign of more pressure, France said a plane belonging to Gbagbo had been grounded at the Franco-Swiss Basel/Mulhouse airport.