Ivory Coast election winner wants rival ousted

The internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election is asking for special forces to launch a commando operation to remove the country’s sitting president who has refused to cede power five weeks after the results were announced.

Hunkered inside a hotel guarded by U.N. peacekeepers, Alassane Ouattara told on Thursday that Laurent Gbagbo would try to flee if the regional bloc of West African states, the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS, sent in troops to oust him.

“I know Mr. Gbagbo,” Ouattara said on the lawn of the lagoonside hotel. “If he sees that ECOWAS troops are coming to capture him, believe me he will start running away. I know him well. He does not have the courage to face those type of situations.”

While the U.N. and other world powers recognize Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential runoff, Gbagbo has refused to step down, insisting he was the victor. The political standoff has paralyzed this once prosperous country, the world’s largest cocoa producer, and tensions over the outcome have sparked violence, with the U.N. confirming at least 173 deaths.

While ECOWAS has threatened military action against Gbagbo, African leaders in recent days have shied away from making a commitment, fearing mass casualties and a possible return to civil war in the nation that was divided by such bloodshed after a one-year civil war in 2003.