Africans to issue ultimatum to Ivory Coast's Gbagbo

[Update: Three African presidents have met with Laurent Gbagbo, the defiant Ivory Coast president, in an effort to pursuade him to step down and defuse the country's political crisis. Details of the meeting were not immediately available, but government officers loyal to Gbagbo had indicated before the meeting that he would not abdicate power.]

Presidents Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Boni Yayi of Benin and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde arrived Tuesday in Abidjan with officials of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which has threatened to use "legitimate force" if Gbagbo does not step down from power.

The U.N. certified Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 runoff vote in Ivory Coast, but Gbagbo insists he won.

More than 170 people have been killed in post-election violence, with human rights groups accusing gunmen supportive of Gbagbo gunmen of extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture. The dispute threatens to tip the country back into civil war, with Gbagbo's supporters warning against use of force to remove him, citing the possibility of war in West Africa.

At a special summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Friday, the presidents of the region urged Gbagbo to step down. ECOWAS said it was prepared to use "legitimate force" against Gbagbo and mentioned the prospect of prosecution in an international court against those responsible for violence in Abidjan.

The United States and the European Union, meantime, have placed a travel ban on Gbagbo, while the World Bank and the regional West African central bank have frozen his finances.

While France, which last week urged its citizens to leave Ivory Coast temporarily, has agreed to recognize an envoy of Ouattara as the rightful Ivory Coast Ambassador in Paris.