A picture of a TV screen shows Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo delivering a speech in which he insisted he remains the country's true president, in his first televised address since a violent political crisis erupted over vote results. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)
ABIDJAN, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Cote d'Ivoire's Laurent Gbagbo, who was declared the winner in the Nov. 28 presidential election by the Constitutional Council, on Tuesday called on his rival Alassane Ouattara and his entourage to leave the hotel where they are holed up in Abidjan and return to their homes.
"I appeal to all the people who are still staying at the Golf Hotel to return to their homes," Gbagbo said in a speech on national television.
Alassane, his government team and former president Henri Konan Bedie have been staying in the Golf Hotel for three weeks now.
"No one forced them to take refuge in the hotel and no one has prevented them from coming out," Gbagbo said before affirming that "they are free to move around."
The hotel, which is situated in a posh suburb of Cocody, is under the surveillance of the UN peace keepers and the ex-rebel New Forces soldiers, whose head, Guillaume Soro, was named by Ouattara as the prime minister and minister of defense.
Access to the hotel has been blocked by Cote d'Ivoire's army which is loyal to Gbagbo, and this has stopped any movement within the area, especially after last week's march by Ouattara's camp towards the national television.
The march was violently repressed by Gbagbo's forces. Gbagbo's camp insists that only 20 people died, while the UN says about 50 died. Ouattara's camp claims a toll of 200.
The New Forces lost two men during an exchange of fire with Gbagbo's forces around the hotel.
"I would not wish to see blood of any Cote d'Ivoire national being spilled. I would not wish to see a civil war in Cote d'Ivoire since this can spill over to the neighboring countries or weaken them," Gbagbo said in his speech, insisting that he was "the president of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire."
His re-election declared by the Constitutional Council is being contested by the international community, which has thrown its support behind Ouattara after the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) said he was the winner of the election.