January 6, 2011 / 1:18 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-I.Coast's Ouattara offers rival safety if he leaves

* Ouattara makes Gbagbo offer, accuses him of violence

* U.N. raises death toll, condemns blocking of probes

* Pro-Gbagbo youth leader eases threats

(Recasts with Ouattara, Ble Goude comment)

By Nicholas Vinocur and Tim Cocks

PARIS/ABIDJAN, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara said on Thursday his rival Laurent Gbagbo had “blood on his hands” for post-election violence, but would still be offered a guarantee of safety if he steps down.

There was no immediate reaction from Gbagbo’s camp but the firebrand head of veteran leader’s youth wing, which has threatened Ouattara, called on his supporters to stay calm and let diplomacy resolve the turmoil.

Gbagbo, who has ruled Ivory Coast since 2000, has clung to power and ordered U.N. forces out of the country. The world body, which has 10,000 soldiers and police in Ivory Coast, rejected Gbagbo’s order to leave and called on Wednesday for an extra 1,000-2,000 peacekeepers.

“He has to go. (But) I am ready to guarantee him safety ... And numerous advantages,” Ouattara said in his headquarters, a lagoon-side hotel protected by a ring of hundreds of U.N. soldiers and under blockade by pro-Gbagbo military.

He did not say what he meant by “advantages”, but previous offers have included immunity, exile and financial guarantees.

“Every night, people are being assassinated, women are being raped, by militias ... mercenaries are killing Ivorians,” he told the news conference.

Ouattara told Europe 1 radio he had proof Gbagbo had “blood on his hands” and he wanted the International Criminal Court to intervene. The Hague-based court has said it is monitoring the situation in Ivory Coast.

The United Nations said the confirmed death toll from the violence had risen to 210 and condemned the blocking of investigators trying to probe reports of further killings since the Nov. 28 election, which Ouattara is widely seen to have won.

Simon Munzu, the head of the human rights division in the U.N. mission, said the real figure was likely to be even higher. “We want the international community to do everything it can to put a stop to this violence,” he said.

There are reports of at least two mass graves in Ivory Coast but investigators have been blocked from accessing them by masked pro-Gbagbo gunmen, the United Nations says.

“Those who are blocking our investigations must remove these blockages,” Munzu said.

West African regional body ECOWAS has sent presidents of nearby states to persuade Gbagbo to leave. They have said Gbagbo could be driven out by force, although many in the region are doubtful neighbouring countries would carry out such a threat.

Charles Ble Goude, a minister in Gbagbo’s government and leader of the Young Patriotes militia that has threatened to storm Ouattara’s headquarters, said youth who had prepared to defend their country must now return to work or studies.

“Diplomacy is underway so let’s see what comes of it but if ECOWAS choses the military option, we will reconsider,” he said.

PRESSURE ON ECOWAS

Ouattara told the news conference that a recount proposed by Gbagbo was out the question, because the United Nations had already certified his victory as fair, and ECOWAS had a duty to follow through on its military threat if Gbagbo did not step down by the end of January.

However, any such operation would be highly complex and is littered with logistical and political obstacles, so is likely to be some time off if it ever takes place.

Ouattara suggested Gbagbo could be removed by a clinical commando operation, rather than a full scale invasion.

“There are special non-violent operations that allow you to simply take the undesirable person elsewhere,” he said.

Gbagbo retains the loyalty of the armed forces but his authority has been rejected by West Africa’s central bank, which may make it difficult for him to pay his troops.

The country’s main export earner is cocoa, of which it is the world’s largest producer.

Production has largely held up during the violence but industry players fear an escalation of violence and a number of exporters told Reuters in Abidjan that the flow of beans from around Duekoue, a key cocoa region, had dried up this week.

Ouattara encouraged foreign powers, who have already imposed a number of asset freezes and travel bans on Gbagbo and his circle, to harden sanctions. (Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff)

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