West African heads of state have met Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast to persuade him to cede power after the disputed presidential election.

Mr Gbagbo is refusing to make way for Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as the president-elect.

The delegation has said that if he does not relinquish power, he could be forced out by military intervention.

Meanwhile, a UN soldier was wounded when his convoy was attacked by a crowd in a Gbagbo stronghold.

A UN statement said the peacekeeper was wounded in the arm by a machete. One of three vehicles in the convoy was set alight in the incident in a western area of Abidjan.



'All went well'

The three West African presidents - Boni Yayi of Benin, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde - arrived in Abidjan during the morning in what was seen as a final chance to urge Mr Gbagbo to step down peacefully.

After the meeting, Benin's President, Boni Yayi, said "all went well".

He and the leaders of Sierra Leone and Cape Verde then met Mr Ouattara who is in a hotel with his shadow government protected by around 800 UN peacekeepers.

"Outtara won and we insist that Outtara becomes the president of this country and that is the position taken by the West African leaders," Sierra Leone's Information Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo told the BBC.

A Sierra Leone government spokesman told the BBC that the leaders from the Ecowas regional grouping would be offering Mr Gbagbo a way of leaving without being humiliated.

While the talks continued throughout the afternoon, it emerged that a rally of Gbagbo's young supporters scheduled for Wednesday had been cancelled.

Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude said the demonstration had been postponed to give the diplomatic initiative a chance but he added that he did not wish to give armed opponents the chance of infiltrating the event and "launching their civil war".

Mr Ouattara's victory in the 28 November election was overturned by the Constitutional Council, a body headed by an ally of Mr Gbagbo, citing claims that results were rigged in the north.



After meeting Mr Gbagbo, the West African leaders went on to talks with Alassane Ouattara (left)

Refugees escape

The number of people who have fled Ivory Coast for neighbouring Liberia is close to 20,000, according to the UN which says they left because of the threat of possible civil war.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says 15,120 people from villages in western Ivory Coast are known to have crossed the border and another 4,000 arrivals have been reported.

Most of the refugees are said to be women and children and almost two thirds under the age of 18.

The UN has said at least 173 people have died in violence, and scores of others have been tortured.

The atmosphere in Abidjan is tense, says the BBC's John James, with everyone fearing a military intervention in the coming weeks.

Ivorians had hoped these elections would close the chapter on the country's most difficult 10 years, but instead they have opened up a new period of instability, he explains.


Source: BBC/Africa