Envoys to return to Ivory Coast next week

The three West African presidents who told Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo to step down or be removed by force will return next week to hear his answer, officials said today.
The delegation from the ECOWAS regional bloc -- Cape Verde's Pedro Pires, Sierra Leone's Ernest Koroma, and Benin's Boni Yayi -- expect to return to Ivory Coast on January 4 or January 5, an official in the Cape Verde president's office said. A second source in the foreign ministry confirmed it. The sources said Gbagbo had initially been given 24 hours to consider the ultimatum, but he later requested and was granted a week to come up with his reaction.
World powers and African neighbours are heaping pressure on Gbagbo to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara after a disputed November 28 election, meant to unify the world's top cocoa producer after its 2002-03 civil war. Election commission results showed Ouattara with an 8-point victory in the poll, but the results were quickly overturned by the country's top court -- run by a Gbagbo ally -- over allegations of fraud.
The United States and European Union have slapped sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut his financing in an attempt to weaken his grip on power. More than 170 people have died in the standoff, which threatens to rekindle fighting between soldiers still loyal to Gbagbo and rebels in the north who now support Ouattara.

The three presidents are now in Nigeria, reporting yesterday's talks to West African regional bloc ECOWAS chairperson and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.