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West African leaders call for UN action amid Ivory Coast bloodshed

West African leaders have called on the U.N. to tighten sanctions against disputed Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo amid escalating violence.

Ivory coast ecowas 2011 3 24Enlarge
Sierra Leonean President Ernest Koromah (C) smiles as Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (R) chats with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on March 23, 2011 before the start of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Abuja. West African leaders met on March 23 in a summit that will consider asking the United Nations to take further action on Ivory Coast after their regional bloc previously threatened to use force in the crisis. The talks come three months after the ECOWAS held an emergency summit on Ivory Coast where it threatened the use of force if strongman Laurent Gbagbo did not step down peacefully. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

West African leaders have reportedly called on the U.N. Security Council to tighten sanctions against disputed Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to force him from power. 

The call came as the United Nations Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) reported that post-election violence had killed 52 people in the Ivory Coast in the past week, bringing the death toll this year to 462.

Human rights official Guillaume Ngefa said in Abidjan, the main city in Ivory Coast, that forces loyal to Gbagbo were "indiscriminately" shelling areas seen as backing internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara. 

Shelling and other attacks had killed at least 50 people in the last week, including five children, and wounded dozens more, Ngefa said, VOA reported. 

But bloodshed has become a daily occurrence in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, since dispute over the outcome of the Nov. 28 presidential polls sparked clashes between forces loyal to Gbagbo and those backing Ouattara.

The election was supposed to reunify the country which has been divided since a 2002 civil war.

Thousands are fleeing Abidjan daily to the northern city of Bouake as fighting intensifies between supporters and opponents of Gbagbo, the BBC reports.

A meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Thursday also resolved that the 9,000-strong U.N. force in Ivory Coast should have a tougher mandate to help oust Laurent Gbagbo from power, according to the BBC.

The African Union had given Gbagbo a deadline of Thursday to step down but had not said what it would do next.

ECOWAS, a regional body representing 15 West African nations, meanwhile described the situation in Ivory Coast as a “regional humanitarian emergency” caused by Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office.

The U.N. force in Ivory Coast should have the powers "to protect life and property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr Alassane Ouattara," said the group, which has itself threatened to lead a military operation to oust Gbagbo.

ECOWAS also said Thursday that it wanted the U.N. Security Council to tighten sanctions on Gbagbo.

According to the Washington Post, attacks on immigrants from neighboring African nations have increased since ECOWAS threatened military intervention, with instances of “necklacing,” in which the victim is set on fire after a tire is wedged down around his body, on the rise.

Gbagbo’s youth minister, Charles Ble Goude, recently called on Ivorians to take up arms against citizens of other ECOWAS states because the bloc refused to acknowledge Gbagbo as president, The Post reported.