West African leaders have called on the UN Security Council to increase pressure on Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power despite losing the November 2010 election to his rival, Alassane Ouattara. More than 450 people have been killed in clashes between rival militias that have brought Ivory Coast to the brink of civil war, with 52 killed this week alone. ECOWAS leaders at a meeting in Nigeria have called for tougher sanctions to be placed on Gbagbo and for the 9,000-strong UN peacekeeping force deployed throughout the country to be given a more robust mandate to protect civilians and control the violence. Meanwhile, up to 1 million people have fled the capital of Abidjan, according to the UN refugee agency. Banks have collapsed, unemployment and food prices are skyrocketing, and observers fear that if left unchecked, the fighting could spread to neighbouring Liberia.
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