ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's presidential poll said Monday he and his supporters will march on state institutions in a bid to take control, and the European Union agreed on sanctions against the incumbent.
Incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo claimed victory in November's poll and has rebuffed calls from the U.S., the EU, former colonial ruler France and the African Union to step down. The United Nations recognized opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the winner. Both took oaths of office and set up governments last week in the vote's chaotic aftermath.
After setting up his administration in an Abidjan hotel, Ouattara on Monday raised the stakes by saying he and his supporters will march on government buildings and state television on Thursday in a high-risk bid to deprive Gbagbo of the trappings of his presidency.
Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said his camp will go to state television headquarters on Thursday to install their newly appointed station chief.
Soro, who was prime minister under Gbagbo but has since resigned in protest, said they would also hold a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office on Friday.
Both state television and the government buildings are currently occupied by officials loyal to Gbagbo and are heavily guarded by Gbagbo's forces. Soro did not say what the group would do if they met resistance, nor if New Forces rebels loyal to Ouattara would participate in the planned events.
"There is nothing to negotiate," Soro said when asked if he had informed Gbagbo of his plans.
The announcement could intensify a standoff between the rival presidents that already has people on edge. Security forces have killed at least 20 people since the Nov. 28 poll, according to an Amnesty International report, though Ouattara's camp puts that number at 63. Rumors of Liberian mercenaries being brought into the country, where there's a history of both sides calling them in during previous conflicts, have been circulating for weeks.
Earlier in the day, security forces loyal to Ouattara fired into the air after approaching soldiers loyal to Gbagbo.
Prime Ministerial spokesman Meite Sindou, who belongs to Ouattara's government, said the New Forces rebels were sent to remove a roadblock set up by Gbagbo's soldiers. Sindou said no one was hurt in the brief altercation. But Gbagbo's forces later set up roadblocks to all approaches to Ouattara's headquarters, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
Also Monday, the European Union said it will impose sanctions on Ivory Coast unless Gbagbo recognizes Ouattara as the winner.
The EU nations agreed to freeze the assets and impose a visa ban on anyone blocking Ouattara's assumption of power.
The EU "decided to adopt without delay targeted restrictive measures against those who are obstructing the process of peace and national reconciliation," the EU foreign ministers said in a statement.
"Those measures will include a visa ban and an assets freeze," the statement said, targeting those who oppose a smooth transition of power. They said the measures would be imposed "without delay."
The most immediate effect of any sanctions would be the withholding of some euro255 million ($340 million) in EU development aid.
The EU's action is the latest in a series of international reproaches against Ivory Coast, including suspension from the AU and the regional economic bloc ECOWAS.
The election was supposed to bring stability to the West African country, which used to be one of the most prosperous on the continent until poverty skyrocketed during a brief 2002-2003 civil war and protracted political standoff that followed. The country has been under a nightly curfew for more than two weeks and the uncertainty following the disputed presidential election has prompted fears of renewed violence.
Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic and Raf Casert reported from Brussels, Belgium.