Blockade on Ouattara still in place

NAIROBI-ABIDJAN - Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo has broken his promise to African mediators to lift a military blockade around the hotel where his rival Alassane Ouattara is holed up, a spokesperson for Ouattara said yesterday.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and three West African heads of state met Gbagbo in the economic capital Abidjan on Monday, and said they extracted a promise from the defiant leader to enter into talks and remove the barricades.

"Mr Gbagbo has kept his word on the blockade, which he lifted at around midday yesterday," Odinga said yesterday after his return to Kenya.

However, Patrick Achi, spokesperson for Ouattara's alternative government, said the blockade was still there yesterday morning.

"We think this is a manoeuvre to buy time since the heads of state were there, but I'm sure it wasn't in their minds to move it," Achi said.

Gbagbo has resisted fierce international pressure to hand over power to Ouattara - recognised as Ivory Coast's rightful president - in a standoff the UN says has claimed at least 173 lives.

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