ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - The man who refuses to step down from the presidency ordered thousands of U.N. peacekeepers to leave Ivory Coast immediately on Saturday, calling the global body that has endorsed his political rival an "agent of destabilization."
The move was the latest act of political defiance by Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000 and maintains that he is the rightful winner of last month's runoff vote in the West African nation, despite growing international pressure on him to concede defeat.
The statement read on state television came just two days after as many as 30 people were killed in street violence in Ivory Coast. Earlier Saturday, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. base; no one from the U.N. was harmed in the attack.
Gbagbo's spokeswoman said Saturday that the U.N. mission known as UNOCI has not remained neutral in the election dispute and accused it of arming the New Forces rebels allied with opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.
The United Nations certified results showing that Ouattara had won by "an irrefutable margin." The U.N. had been invited by the country itself to supervise the vote and certify the outcome following a peace accord after Ivory Coast's 2002-2003 civil war.
"The state of Ivory Coast considers that the UNOCI has shown itself to be guilty of serious misconduct, which indubitably proves that it is an agent of destabilization and contributes to the further division of the Ivorian people," she said.
In New York, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy chaired an emergency meeting of his department's crisis team to discuss a response to Gbagbo's request. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was planning to issue a statement later on Ivory Coast.
It remained unclear what weight Gbagbo's demand would have since the United Nations doesn't consider him to be president. There are about 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers in the country, and about 800 of them have been protecting the compound from which Ouattara is trying to govern the country.
Gbagbo also called for the departure of about 900 French forces who have been supporting the U.N. peacekeepers.
Gbagbo claimed victory in the presidential election only after his allies threw out half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the north, a move that infuriated residents there.