Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo maintains Ouattara blockade

United Nations troops in Abidjan by a billboard of Ivory Coast’s internationally recognised elected leader Alassane Ouattara
Image caption An estimated 10,000 UN troops are in the country, some of the protecting Alassane Ouattara's HQ

A blockade around the hotel sheltering the man recognised internationally as Ivory Coast's leader is still in place.

West African mediators say that incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to lift the siege on Alassane Ouattara's temporary HQ in Abidjan.

But a BBC reporter in Abidjan says state TV failed to report the deal and the hotel remains surrounded.

The UN regards Mr Ouattara as the winner of November elections but Mr Gbagbo has refused to cede power.

The West African regional body Ecowas has threatened to force him out, but is trying mediation efforts first.

On Monday, it sent the presidents of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone to negotiate Mr Gbagbo's departure - their second attempt to do so in a week.

They came away with was his apparent promise to lift the blockade around Mr Ouattara's hotel, which is protected by UN peacekeepers.

After a debriefing meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the chairman of the Ecowas Commission, James Victor Gbeho, said that Mr Gbagbo had also agreed to negotiate a "peaceful end" to end the crisis without preconditions.

"On his part, Mr Alassane Ouattara indicated his willingness to ensure a dignified exit for Mr Gbagbo provided the latter accepted the outcome of the presidential election as declared by the independent electoral commission and certified by the United Nations," he said.

The BBC's John James in Abidjan says the security forces are still sealing off roads for several kilometres leading to the Golf Hotel.

'Options narrowing'

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the African Union (AU), said he remained optimistic that negotiations were moving forward after meeting the three West African presidents who are attempting to negotiate Mr Gbagbo's departure.

"He [Gbagbo] says that he is ready to negotiate without any conditions. And stepping aside is the main option that we gave him," Mr Odinga told the BBC's Newshour programme.

"We told him that he needs to recognise that Mr Ouattara is the elected leader of the country, so I think he is seeing that options are actually narrowing and that he has really no other choice but to agree to negotiate an exit option."

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says the number of Ivorians seeking safety in neighbouring Liberia has reached 22,000.

The refugees include supporters of both camps from the west of the country, the agency said.

"They say they fled at night and walked through the bushes to avoid detection by forces of opposing political views, who are in control of the territories they come from," AFP news agency quotes the UNHCR statement as saying.

The 28 November election was intended to reunify the country - the world's leading cocoa producer - which has been divided since a 2002 conflict.

Mr Ouattara was initially proclaimed the winner by the country's election commission - a verdict backed by the UN, which helped organise the poll.

But the country's Constitutional Council, headed by an ally of Mr Gbagbo, later ruled that he had won, citing voting irregularities in the north of the country.

The north is controlled by the New Forces, a former rebel movement that supports Mr Ouattara.

Both men have been sworn in as president.

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