The African Union reaffirmed Alassane Ouattara as the legal president of Ivory Coast, but his future remained uncertain Friday as an aide warned of death threats and the country's strongman refused to budge from the presidential mansion.
After a month of research, the AU asked Laurent Gbagbo to leave and called on Ivory Coast's highest court to swear in Ouattara, who agreed to appoint a unity government that would include members of his opponent's party, according to a three-page report made available to The Associated Press by a diplomat at the presentation. The AU said it would appoint a high-level representative who will be given two weeks to oversee the implementation of these recommendations, according to the final communique.
Gbagbo, who has been in power for a decade, insists he won the Nov. 28 election despite U.N.-certified results showing Ouattara received more than 54 percent of the vote to Gbagbo's 46 percent.
Pascal Affi N'Guessan, Gbagbo's representative at the meeting, said he holds out hope that the high-level AU representative will reconsider a decision that he says is "unacceptable." State TV in Ivory Coast called the AU position "absurd."
Ouattara left Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where the AU meeting had been held, reaching Nigeria Friday evening for talks with Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president who has been a proponent of an armed intervention to force Gbagbo out.
The trip to Ethiopia and Nigeria marks the first time that Ouattara has left the hotel where he has been under United Nations protection since the contested election, and it was not immediately clear if he would face problems returning to Ivory Coast.
The only way to reach the hotel where Ouattara has been living is via a chartered helicopter, which lands on the estate's back lawn. He is believed to have left by helicopter to Bouake, a city in the north controlled by rebels loyal to him which has an airport.
The day of his departure, a decree was read on state television announcing that U.N. helicopters would no longer be allowed to fly over Ivory Coast.
The top U.N. official in Ivory Coast told reporters Friday that getting Ouattara back into the country is no simple matter.
"I have no comment because it regards the security of a head of state," said U.N. Special Representative Choi Young-jin. "But it is more complicated than you can imagine."
Ouattara's spokesman Patrick Achi said that Ouattara has been receiving death threats and that he was not at liberty to discuss his travel arrangements. The commercial capital of Abidjan, where the international airport is located, is controlled by the army loyal to Gbagbo, even though several northern suburbs of the city have in recent weeks fallen to an armed group that claims loyalty to Ouattara.
Last week, Gbagbo's security forces opened fire with tanks on a group of unarmed female demonstrators, killing seven. Choi said that nearly 400 people have been killed, and interviews with families of victims and an AP review of the names of the dead provided by several city morgues indicates the majority are Muslims from the north, the demographic that voted in largest numbers for Ouattara.
It remains unclear how the AU plans to force Gbagbo to step down. He has refused similar calls from other world and regional bodies, including the U.N. Security Council and the regional bloc ECOWAS, which is headed by Nigeria's president and which has a military wing that can be mobilized to intervene in conflicts.
But pro-Ouattara forces in Abidjan may not wait for those diplomatic channels to be exhausted.
The top U.N. envoy confirmed Friday that parts of the city are now under their control and their reach is growing. The commandos wear amulets in the form of leather bracelets and woolen hats with flaps over their ears, a type of dress common among the country's northern rebels who have long supported Ouattara.
They say that they are preparing to take Abidjan whether or not Ouattara gives them the go-ahead because Gbagbo is attempting to usurp power.
"We saw what happened in Egypt," said one leader of the group who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. "We are doing our revolution our own way."
Associated Press Writer Marco Chown Oved contributed to this report.