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Volatile Ivory Coast in 'civil war situation,' prime minister says

A top ally of Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader said Friday that the country is already in a "civil war situation," while the incumbent leader who refuses to step down after the disputed election accused world leaders of launching a coup to oust him.

The United Nations has said that the volatile West African nation, once divided in two, faces a real risk of return to civil war, but Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said the country is already at this point -- "indeed in a civil war situation."

"This is what's at stake: Either we assist in the installation of democracy in Ivory Coast or we stand by indifferent and allow democracy to be assassinated," Soro said, adding that more than 200 people already have been killed and 1,000 others wounded by gunfire.

Soro was appointed prime minister under Ouattara's government, which has been holed up in the Golf Hotel under U.N. protection.

Human rights groups accuse incumbent Laurent Gbagbo's security forces of abducting and killing political opponents, though Gbagbo allies deny the allegations and say some of the victims were security forces killed by protesters. The U.N. has confirmed at least 173 deaths.

Gbagbo on Friday accused the international community of mounting a coup d'etat to oust him and said Ivorians were being subjected to international hostility. "No one has the right to call on foreign armies to invade his country," Gbagbo said. "Our greatest duty to our country is to defend it from foreign attack."

The United Nations had been invited by all parties to certify the results of the Nov. 28 presidential runoff vote. The U.N. declared Alassane Ouattara the winner, endorsing the announcement by the country's electoral commission. But Gbagbo has refused to step aside now for more than a month.

The European Union said late Friday that it had approved sanctions on 59 more people, in addition to 19 already sanctioned last week including Gbagbo and his wife.

West African leaders have said they are prepared to use military force to push Gbagbo out, but are giving negotiations more time for now.

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