ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast— Allies of the man who the international community says won Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election called Sunday for a general strike that would last until the incumbent hanging on to power concedes defeat and leaves office.
It was the latest form of pressure to force Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency nearly a month after the United Nations said his political rival, Alassane Ouattara, won the runoff vote. Gbagbo has refused to leave despite international calls for his ouster, and West African leaders say they now will remove him by force if he fails to go.
In an interview Sunday, Gbagbo said he was not concerned about world opinion, insisting he was duly elected. He said of his detractors: "Maybe they do not want me, I admit it, but I am not looking to be loved by them. I respect and abide by the Ivorians' vote."
Djedje Mady, the head of Ouattara's electoral coalition, said it called on "all Ivorians and those who live in Ivory Coast and believe in peace and justice to cease all their activities on Monday, December 27, 2010, until Laurent Gbagbo leaves power."
The United Nations has said that at least 173 people have been killed in violence over the vote, heightening fears that the country once divided in two could return to civil war. The toll is believed to be much higher, though, as the U.N. mission has been blocked from investigating other reports, including an allegation of a mass grave.
Gbagbo has been in power since 2000 and had already overstayed his mandate by five years when the long-delayed presidential election was finally held in October. For nearly a month, Gbagbo has now defied calls from the international community to concede defeat. West African leaders from the regional bloc ECOWAS late Friday threatened a military intervention if Gbagbo does not step down. On Sunday, Sierra Leone's information ministry said that three leaders from the region would pay him a visit.
In the spirit of brotherliness in Africa, three presidents have been nominated by colleagues to confront Mr. Gbagbo in Abidjan to encourage him to leave office without delay," the ministry said. "The three presidents can fly back with Mr. Gbagbo, as all ECOWAS countries are prepared to grant him asylum."
Gbagbo has shown few signs that he plans to go, though. "They will explain to me how Alassane Ouattara was elected and I was not," Gbagbo said Sunday of the regional leaders who plan to visit him this week.