His rival Alassane Ouattara has won almost unanimous international backing after his eight-point lead in a November 28 presidential vote was overturned on grounds of alleged fraud by the Constitutional Council, led by a staunch Gbagbo ally.
About 5,000 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring countries as concerns grow that an election designed to draw a line under a 2002-2003 civil war will instead destabilise the country and a fragile region.
Both the European Union and the United States have warned Gbagbo that he and his entourage could face sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes within days if he does not step down, but his camp has dismissed the threats as meddling.
“We have a sole battle: to ensure our dignity, our country’s sovereignty is respected. It is up to us to choose our president,” Young Patriots’ leader Charles Ble Goude told a rally of the fervently pro-Gbagbo youth movement late on Sunday.
“This battle that we began in 2002 — we are ready to die for it,” said Ble Goude, who was named this month as Gbagbo’s youth minister and who has been on a U.N. sanctions list since 2006 for making public statements advocating violence.
Referring to clashes between the group and the French military operation, known as Licorne, in 2004 that led to evacuations of thousands of French expatriates, he said:
“Licorne and us, we know each other. They’ve got our calling card. Its UNOCI that doesn’t have it yet,” he said of the 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Tensions in Ivory Coast have pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks on market fears of a disruption to supplies. So far, cocoa beans have been getting through to port but there have been delays in registering them for export.
Gbagbo retains control of the army and the key institutions including the state broadcaster.
His government called on U.N. and French troops to quit the country on Saturday but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and France have defied the call and said they will stay.
Talks are scheduled in the U.N. Security Council on Monday on a new mandate for the U.N. force, whose current role allowing it to protect civilians under “imminent threat” of violence runs out on December 31.
An attempt by Ouattara supporters last week to seize the state TV building ended in bloodshed as pro-Gbagbo forces used live rounds to put down the protest.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cited on Sunday evidence of “massive” violations in Ivory Coast, saying more than 50 people had been killed in the previous three days and raising concern over reports of deaths in detention.
“When people are victims of extrajudicial killings there must be an investigation, and there must be accountability,” Pillay said in a statement.
Gbagbo’s government has denied using excessive force to put down last week’s protests and says some protesters were armed. Reuters