Mark John: Global approach to Ivory Coast crisis is lesson to all Africa

Rarely have world powers and neighbours piled so much concerted pressure on an African leader to quit as Laurent Gbagbo faces after an Ivory Coast poll he is almost universally judged to have lost.

But with Mr Gbagbo determined to stay in power, the stand-off is becoming a test of how far the world is ready to go to resolve the type of election dispute that has plagued African politics for decades.

"The level of consensus is unprecedented," Rolake Akinola of political risk consultancy VoxFrontier said of the endorsement by the United Nations, African leaders, Washington and Europe of Mr Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, as winner.

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She added: "It will make others elsewhere think hard about what they are going to do."

With 17 national elections scheduled in Africa next year, it will be the busiest year of voting for the continent since the independence era.

A 28 November poll intended to draw the line on Ivory Coast's 2002-3 civil war now risks plunging the world's top cocoa grower into new conflict after a pro-Gbagbo constitutional body overturned Mr Ouattara's win on grounds of fraud.

His subsequent swearing in triggered a diplomatic backlash intended to show, in the words of a senior US State Department official, that "the era of stealing elections is over".

Suspensions of Ivory Coast by the ECOWAS West African bloc and the African Union suggest Mr Gbagbo - who already had few natural allies in his neighbourhood - has been frozen out by peers more completely than even Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe.

Defying his demand that the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force leave, the UN Security Council this week extended its mandate for another six months and France is also keeping its 950-strong force in place.

The IMF has said it can only work with a UN-recognised government and donors such as the African Development Bank and World Bank have put programmes under review, potentially depriving Mr Gbagbo of debt relief and lending.

European Union countries have agreed travel bans on Mr Gbagbo, his powerful wife Simone and 17 officials.

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The United States is looking at a move that could even mean the children of Ivorian officials are ejected from American schools.

But so far Mr Gbagbo appears unmoved - at least officially.

A personal call and letter from Barack Obama have gone unanswered, while Gbagbo's interior minister said of the EU sanctions: "They make us smile."