Protesters burned tyres in the streets, angry residents spoke of arrests by government security forces, and the standoff between two rival governments continued here on December 6.

Diplomats predicted that pressure would build on the losing side in last week's presidential election. The incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, continued to refuse to cede power, despite having finished well behind the winning candidate, Alassane Ouattara, a former Prime Minister, in the count of the country's top election official, as well as that of the United Nations and of independent observers like the Carter Center and the European Union.

The losers remained entrenched in the Presidential palace complex, while the winners conducted cabinet meetings in the basement conference rooms of a faded luxury hotel, heavily protected by United Nations peacekeepers.

The United Nations said on December 6 that it was evacuating hundreds of non-essential staff members from the country.

Soldiers and riot police officers were out in force all over Abidjan, and the road to the state television station — which continues in its news broadcasts to refer to Mr. Gbagbo as the President — was guarded by Ivorian troops. Foreign radio and television broadcasts are blocked here, though opposition newspapers continue to publish.

Thabo Mbeki, a former President of South Africa, who arrived here on December 5 as a mediator from the African Union, met with representatives from both sides, but he did not indicate that a compromise was near.

A way out?

Hopes for a resolution to the political crisis rest largely on continued pressure from the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies, and from the regional grouping of West African states, Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), a diplomat here said. Both were due to meet on December 7 on the standoff. Mr. Gbagbo has been adept at resisting such pressure in the past. At the United Nations, the Russians are reluctant to approve a statement supporting Mr. Ouattara because of concerns about Security Council involvement in elections, diplomats at the United Nations said.

But the diplomat in Abidjan and others warned that the impasse could lead to violence, with well-armed entities on both sides watching each other warily. The rebel army that has held the northern part of the country since a civil war in 2002 is aligned with Mr. Ouattara. The Ivorian army for now is in Mr. Gbagbo's camp. And there are also armed militias on both sides.

Early on December 6 morning, armed men in uniforms stormed a district in a pro-Ouattara neighbourhood called Treichville, in what Mr. Ouattara's camp deemed part of a strategy of provocation by the Gbagbo government. The men broke down doors, beating and arresting young supporters of Mr. Ouattara, residents said.

In other parts of the city, police officers chased young men who had set fire to tyres in the streets.

Diplomats here speak of unusual international unity in the face of what is widely seen as an illegitimate power-grab by Mr. Gbagbo. But they worry that the longer the standoff continues, the less useful that unity will become.

“One of the concerns we have is that violence could erupt, provocations, and things could go quickly from there,” a diplomat said. (Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from the United Nations.)— © New York Times News Service

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