ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Ivory Coast President Gbagbo lifted the blockade of his rival's headquarters Tuesday, but appeared bent on staying in the presidential palace, officials said.
The move, announced by West Africa's political-economic alliance, "appears to represent a slight softening" of Gbagbo's position after enduring weeks of pressure from neighbors and the West to acknowledge Alassane Ouattara's 9-point election victory, The New York Times reported.
Gbagbo "pledged to immediately lift the blockade around Hotel Du Golf, the temporary headquarters of Mr. Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect," the Economic Community of West African States said in a statement Tuesday in Abuja, Nigeria, adding he "agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions."
But Gbagbo continued to insist his presidential tenure is not negotiable.
"His version of the end of the crisis is quite different from what we have in mind," a Western diplomat in Abuja familiar with the situation told the Times. "He's agreed to a negotiated end, but obviously he's not moving. … Gbagbo is still playing for time. He's called their bluff, but they haven't really put anything on the table."
The diplomat said "active preparations are under way" to make good on a threat by ECOWAS to remove Gbagbo by force.
Supporters of Ouattara denied reports Tuesday he had agreed to meet his rival for the presidency.
In a statement, Ouattara's headquarters said the story was "completely false," Radio France Internationale reported. It had come from Kenyan Prime Minister Raile Odinga, who has been attempting to mediate between Ouattara and Gbagbo, who both claim victory in a runoff election.
Ouattara has been recognized as the winner by France, the former colonial power, the United States and most international organizations, including the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. The United States offered Monday to allow Gbagbo to join relatives who live in Atlanta but said he would have to make up his mind quickly.
The United Nations has certified election results that gave Ouattara a nearly 9-point winning margin.
On Monday night, Gbagbo refused to allow U.N. soldiers to escort the visiting heads of state as they came to see him.
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