The risks of another civil war in Côte d'Ivoire have increased sharply, as the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down after losing the election to Alassane Ouattara — whose emphatic 54 to 46 per cent win has been confirmed by the United Nations. Mr. Gbagbo has persuaded the national constitutional council, headed by a crony, to annul the result of the Ivory Coast's first election in a decade. Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo have been sworn in at separate events. The risks are exacerbated by memories of the previous conflict, which raged from 2002 to 2007 and intensified the country's North-South polarisation. In the Nigerian capital, Abuja, a seven-state emergency meeting of the regional economic grouping, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has suspended Ivory Coast and called on Mr. Gbagbo to accept the election result; Ivory Coast was not represented at the meeting. The African Union, for its part, has nominated former South African President Thabo Mbeki as its mediator.

The U.N. Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) has 9,000 troops but is limited mainly to monitoring and assistance, though it can confiscate arms and other matériel brought into the country in violation of a U.N. resolution. President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked Mr. Gbagbo to stand aside, but there is no word on whether France will call on the 600 or so French businesses in Ivory Coast to leave. The European Union is inclined towards preliminary actions that anticipate targeted sanctions. President Barack Obama has written to Mr. Gbagbo hinting at selective sanctions and advising him to accept the election result or face increasing international isolation. As for mediation, Mr. Mbeki's previous attempt in 2006 ended in failure. With a curfew imposed, all borders now closed, and foreign FM radio stations shut down, the country is virtually at a standstill. Rumours will fuel tensions, and as broadcasters like the BBC and Radio France Internationale have cut back on short-wave global transmissions, Ivorians may be cut off from external sources of news. Overseas trade and commodity markets will be affected, as Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer. But the greatest danger now is that almost any domestic incident could spark civil war, which may spill over into neighbouring countries — some of which have had their own recent internal conflicts. The world will be watching how this tale of political chicanery and authoritarianism unfolds and how it gets resolved.

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