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Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo clings to power

Leader rejects calls to step down amid charges of human rights abuses.

Despite Ecowas's Christmas Eve threat to use force if Gbagbo doesn't step down, the possibility of a military intervention in the Ivory Coast remains remote, said African security analyst Peter Pham.

“None of the Ecowas countries has the type of special operations forces capable of a 'decapitation strike' to remove the regime leadership,” said Pham, who is senior vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York. “That leaves the rather unpalatable option of mounting a full-scale invasion of the sort that would inevitably involve urban fighting and civilian casualties.”

“Even if somehow the political agreement, to say nothing of the stomach, could be summoned for such an operation, there are serious doubts that Ecowas has the wherewithal to carry it out,” Pham said.

Gbagbo suffered a further blow when his high-powered American lobbyist Lanny Davis resigned after Gbagbo refused to take a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Davis, a former special council to Bill Clinton, was reportedly paid $100,000 per month to make Gbagbo's case in Washington. Davis gave a spirited defence of Gbagbo on CNN last week, but he refused to continue after the Ivory Coast leader rejected a phone conversation with Obama. Davis said Gbagbo's move was a step in the wrong direction, away from dialogue and a peaceful solution and toward violence.

Following Davis' resignation, Gbagbo quickly hired two new big-name lawyers, both with checkered reputations, to argue his case. Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas arrived in Abidjan late last week accompanied by Jacques Verges, the man who has made a name for himself as the defender of the indefensible.

Dumas is best known as one of the kingpins in France's Elf affair, which The Guardian newspaper called Europe's biggest fraud case since World War II. Over the course of decades, hundreds of millions of dollars were funnelled through French oil company ELF to corrupt African dictators, mercenaries and coup plots, with the knowledge and blessings of top French officials.

Verges is best known in the English-speaking world as Slobodan Milosevic's defense lawyer, but he was already an expert in the defense of war criminals by that time. He had defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbi, better known as the Butcher of Lyon, several high profile Algerian terrorists, and 1970s international terrorist Carlos the Jackal. He was asked to represent Saddam Hussein, but was passed over in favor of a Jordanian defence team.

Upon hearing of his Gbagbo's new team, Ouattara's prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said that Gbagbo had hired the “lawyer of all lost causes.”

Laurent Gbagbo might have a  legal team used to representing lost causes, but the African leader is not admitting defeat yet.