ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - From a hotel room just big enough to hold a bed and a desk, the man considered by the United Nations the legitimate president of Ivory Coast is trying to govern a troubled nation whose sitting president refuses to leave.

Alassane Ouattara does not have access to the presidential palace, so he holds cabinet meetings in a tent on the Golf Hotel's lawn. The hotel manager's fax machine is used to communicate with embassies abroad. And the golf course's sloping fairways may soon house soldiers defecting from the army still controlled by the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo.

The country's election commission declared Ouattara, 68, the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election, an outcome certified by the United Nations. He was recognized as president by the United States, the European Union, former colonial ruler France, and the African Union.

Just about the only world leader who has not acknowledged his victory is the one occupying the presidential palace across town.

To near-universal condemnation, Gbagbo was declared the winner by the country's constitutional council, a body led by one of his close advisers. It threw out votes from provinces where Ouattara had won a majority. Gbagbo imposed a curfew and cut off foreign television and radio.

The vote has turned into a test case for the United Nations, because it was the first time the world body had been asked to certify the results of a presidential election, a condition of a 2005 peace deal signed by Ouattara and Gbagbo to end a civil war.

The top U.N. official in Ivory Coast personally examined tally sheets from 20,000 precincts before validating the results, which showed Ouattara ahead by nearly 10 points.

Gbagbo has ignored pleas to step down from close friends and political heavyweights alike, even refusing a telephone call last weekend from President Obama.

"What I deplore is that in full view of the international community and of the country, the elected president is the one forced to live in a hotel," said Guillaume Soro, who was prime minister under Gbagbo and is one of several members of his government who resigned in protest.

This balmy country halfway down Africa's western coast, once one of the continent's most prosperous, is now a shell of its former self.

Women sell single eggs by the side of four-lane freeways, and university graduates sell boxes of tissues in the shadows of skyscrapers. The risk of a return to civil war is real.

Removing Gbagbo may require military intervention, which most diplomats say is off the table. But from inside his hotel room, Ouattara has started chipping away at Gbagbo's grip.

His administration sent letters to foreign governments asking them not to recognize Gbagbo's diplomats. The U.S. representative to the U.N., Susan Rice, told an Ivorian diplomat Tuesday that he could attend a Security Council meeting on the crisis but that his attendance did not mean his government was legitimate.

Ouattara, a former economist at the International Monetary Fund, has asked the regional central bank to freeze the administration's access. If it agrees, the state's coffers will be empty by the end of the month, and Gbagbo's government will not be able to pay civil servants' salaries, said Jean-Louis Billon, president of the Ivorian Chamber of Commerce.