Laurent Gbagbo came under mounting international pressure on Friday to acknowledge defeat in Ivory Coast’s presidential vote and step aside for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.
The United Nations, United States and European Union all recognised Ouattara as president, acknowledging results announced earlier by the country’s electoral commission.
They called on Gbagbo to allow a peaceful transfer of power.
Earlier Friday, the Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court – run by the president’s allies had declared Gbagbo the winner, as fears mounted of fresh unrest, which has already claimed at least 15 lives.
But as the international community began to fall in behind him earlier Friday, Ouattara declared himself president-elect, defying incumbent Laurent Gbagbo as their tense and bloody stand-off escalated.
“I am the elected president of the Republic of Ivory Coast,” Ouattara told reporters.
“The Constitutional Council has abused its authority, the whole world knows it, and I am sorry for my country’s image.”
Gbagbo’s camp remained defiant however, threatening to expel the United Nations envoy to the country even as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon endorsed Ouattara.
Within hours of Ban backing Ouattara, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had also acknowledged his victory.
Obama urged Gbagbo to acknowledge defeat – or accept the consequences.
“The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions,” he warned.
Earlier Friday, supporters of the incumbent hit the streets yelling “Gbagbo, president!” in Abidjan, the main city.
Elsewhere, Ouattara’s backers set fire to tyres to protest against the Constitutional Council ruling dismissing the electoral commission result.
“They’re stealing our victory!” yelled one Ouattara supporter.
Already late Thursday, Gbagbo had sealed the country’s borders and jammed foreign news broadcasts.
Ouattara’s campaign director Amadou Gon Coulibaly suggested to reporters Friday that Gbagbo might be plotting a “putsch”.
Shortly afterwards came the Constitutional Court ruling declaring Gbagbo the winner: its head, Paul Yao N’Dre, a close ally of Gbagbo, said he had won 51.4 per cent of the vote to 48.6 per cent for Ouattara.
Ivorian Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who heads the New Forces former rebel movement controlling the north of the country, appealed to the UN envoy to the country to endorse the electoral commission decision in favour of Ouattara.
And within hours, UN envoy Choi Young-jin – and Ban himself – had done just that.
They recognised the earlier results announced by the electoral commission that showed Ouattara had won by 54 per cent of the vote to 46 for Gbagbo.
“The second round of the presidential election was, in general, held in a democratic atmosphere, as observed by all credible observer organisations,” said a statement from Choi.
Ban, in a statement from New York, called on Gbagbo “to do his part for the good of the country and to cooperate in a smooth political transition.”
But the Gbagbo camp appeared to be in no mood to concede, threatening to expel the UN envoy over the election dispute.
“If he continues these comments… next time we will demand his immediate departure,” said Alcide Djedje, a senior adviser to Gbagbo of Choi’s statement.
“Only the Constitutional Council can declare a candidate the winner…” he added.