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Ivory Coast official calls for ‘mobilization’ in political standoff

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Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) — A minister in self-declared President Laurent Gbagbo’s Cabinet reiterated calls for Ivorians to surround challenger Alassane Ouattara’s hotel, but said violence is not the gathering’s goal.

“People are getting prepared to gather for a big rally and show how numerous they are, to claim their liberty, to claim peace in (Ivory Coast),” youth minister Charles Ble Goude told CNN.

He described the rally as “bare-handed.”

“I’m not going to buy weapons. I’m not going to buy guns and give them to my followers. We don’t need that. Our force is our mobilization,” he said.

Gbagbo remains defiant in his claim that he won a November 28 election fairly — a claim disputed by Ouattara and a growing international bloc that has recognized him as the winner of the presidential runoff election.

Tensions rise in Ivory Coast

Why U.S. presence in Ivory Coast?

Ouattara’s headquarters is at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan. U.N. security forces are also based there.

On Thursday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said forces were “authorized to use all necessary means to protect its personnel” and any others at the location.

“Any attack against peacekeepers constitutes a crime under international law, for which the perpetrators and those who instigate them will be held accountable,” Ban said.

Goude countered that Ouattara’s presence in the hotel placed Ivorians at risk.

“They are planning to shoot people. Their presence in the hotel is a threat for the population of Abidjan,” he told CNN.

Ouattara and Gbagbo have set dueling deadlines for the other to stand down, but neither showed any signs of doing so Saturday.

Whipping supporters into a frenzy at a rally Wednesday, Goude ordered Ouattara out of Abidjan by Saturday.

“If you (Ouattara) don’t do it by the first of January, when that day passes, I can no longer be responsible for the security of the people at the Golf Hotel,” he said.

A spokesman for Ouattara said that the president-elect told African leaders at a meeting earlier this week that he was willing to offer Gbagbo amnesty in return for ceding power, setting a midnight Friday deadline.

A three-man West African delegation will return to Ivory Coast on Monday and ask Gbagbo to relinquish his post or face a military ouster, a representative of the group said Friday.

If the Economic Community of West African States’ appeal to Gbagbo fails again, the regional bloc’s defense committee will discuss a military option, Nigerian defense spokesman Col. Yerima Mohammed said.

Journalist Gemma Parellada contributed to this report.



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