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United Nations peacekeepers in Ivory Coast fired warning shots in the air on Monday to disperse a mob allied with the president who is refusing to give up power, and a regional envoy arrived to try to persuade the defiant leader to cede office in the interest of peace.
The crowd descended on a parking lot near the luxury Pullman hotel where African Union envoy Raila Odinga was expected to stay. The hotel was being guarded by United Nations armored personnel carriers, and reporters including an Associated Press Television News cameraman saw the mob encircle the vehicles, shouting and pumping their fists in the air.
Seconds later, there was the crack of gunfire; a cloud of birds flew out of nearby trees and protesters scattered.
Odinga, the prime minister of Kenya, spent the afternoon with incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who is insisting he won the Nov. 28 presidential election even though results tallied by his country's electoral commission and double-checked by a special United Nations observation mission showed opposition leader Alassane Ouattara had won.
Attacks against the U.N. have been mounting. Last week six of their cars were destroyed by pro-Gbagbo mobs, who accuse the U.N. of bias, and of being part of "a foreign plot" to remove the leader.
Odinga's trip is the fifth high-level visit by an African leader trying to find a solution to the standoff. In a statement released Monday, Odinga said Gbagbo's unwillingness to respect the results could create a crisis of confidence for Africa and lead people to think their votes do not matter in a year when 17 presidential elections are scheduled.
"The refusal to respect the will of the Ivorians as expressed in the November elections will deal a deadly blow to the wave of democracy that is sweeping Africa," Odinga said, according to the statement.
On Monday night after leaving the presidential palace, Odinga was expected to visit Ouattara, who is holed up in a hotel across town, unable to leave except by helicopter because troops loyal to Gbagbo have sealed off the roads. The latest attempt at diplomacy comes as the chiefs of staff of the armies of 15 neighboring nations planned to meet this week to consider military intervention to oust Gbagbo.
There are fears, though, that military action could spark retaliatory attacks by the Young Patriots, a militia-like organization allied with Gbagbo. The group's members were behind the attempted attack on the U.N. at the Pullman.
Over the weekend, the group's leader, Charles Ble Goude, held a rally to warn he would soon give "the command" - implying that he planned to unleash the mobs - as he did in 2004 and 2005, when the group gang raped foreign women, beat French citizens and attacked peacekeepers.
This program aired on January 17, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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