ABIDJAN (Reuters) - An influential youth leader and staunch supporter of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo on Saturday called on his "Young Patriot" followers to sign up for the army and "liberate" the country.
The appeal by Charles Ble Goude, who leads the pro-Gbagbo youth wing that has been accused of inciting attacks on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers, will further stoke fears that the world's top cocoa grower is slipping toward civil war.
Gbagbo is refusing to cede power after an election that was won by his rival Alassane Ouattara, according to results that were approved by the United Nations and most world leaders.
"I call on all the youth of Ivory Coast to report to the army headquarters on Monday at 0700 (3 a.m. EDT) to enroll in the army," Ble Goude told some 10,000 of his followers at a rally in the main city of Abidjan.
The crowd chanted "We want to free (Ivory Coast)! We want to free (Ivory Coast)!" when asked by their leader if they were ready to join the army, which has been involved in heavy fighting with forces pledging allegiance to Ouattara.
Ble Goude, who is also Gbagbo's minister for youth despite having been under years of U.N. sanctions, has been accused by rights groups of inciting attacks on Ouattara supporters, U.N. peacekeepers and West Africans living in Ivory Coast.
He has always denied the charge, saying he has only called for peaceful demonstrations. "I am being force to change tack. I am being forced to do something that I don't want to do."
The November 28 election was meant to reunite a country split since a 2002-3 war but Gbagbo's refusal to hand power to Ouattara, who has been backed by the former rebels still controlling the north, has pushed it to the brink of war.
The heaviest fighting has taken place in Abidjan but clashes have also taken place in the west, where the northern forces have pushed south across the ceasefire line.
The U.N. says some 435 people have been killed and another 450,000 forced from their homes since the crisis began.
Cocoa futures have been pushed to 30-year highs as exports have dried up due to European sanctions on Gbagbo's camp and a ban imposed by Ouattara, who has set up a parallel government but remains holed up in a hotel protected by U.N. troops.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland)