Thousands flee Ivory Coast poll violence

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The Independent Online

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 neighbouring Liberia, the UN refugee agency has said. At least one child drowned while trying to cross a river.

The UN believes that at least 173 people have died in violence over the disputed presidential runoff election held nearly one month ago. The toll is expected to be much higher, though, as the UN mission has been blocked from investigating other reports including an allegation of a mass grave.

West African leaders have threatened a military intervention if Laurent Gbagbo, the man who the UN says lost the election in Ivory Coast, does not step down. James Gbeho, president of the regional bloc ECOWAS, said the group was making an "ultimate gesture" to Mr Gbagbo to urge him to make a peaceful exit.

Mr Gbagbo has shown few signs that he plans to go, and his security forces have been accused of being behind hundreds of arrests and dozens of cases of disappearance and torture in recent weeks. An adviser to the incumbent president said he did not believe Mr Gbagbo's supporters were behind the attacks.

Mr Gbeho said ECOWAS would send a high-level delegation to meet Mr Gbagbo, but did not give details. The bloc has also not given a deadline for Mr Gbagbo to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, whose victory has been acknowledged by the UN, the US, the African Union and the European Union. Senior diplomatic sources say Mr Gbagbo has enough reserves to run the country for only three months.