UPDATE 10-U.S. leads calls for Gbagbo to concede I.Coast vote

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Saturday, 4 December 2010 00:37 GMT

* U.N., U.S., France reject Gbagbo victory, back Ouattara

* Gbagbo scheduled to be sworn in Saturday, has army backing

* Ouattara's opposition camp warns of return to civil war

* Cocoa futures rise more than two percent

(Adds Obama quote, comment from head of Ivorian military)

By Tim Cocks and David Lewis

ABIDJAN, Dec 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama led calls on Friday for incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to accept defeat in Ivory Coast's presidential election, rejecting a top court's ruling that handed Gbagbo victory and sparked fears of unrest.

Disagreement over the outcome has raised the risk of renewed bloodshed in the world's top cocoa producer nation, where the much-delayed election was meant to heal the wounds of a 2002-03 civil war but instead has reopened them.

Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara, who took 54.1 percent in provisional results before they were overturned, claimed the win and was endorsed by rebels who fought against Gbagbo in the war and who still control much of the country's north.

On the other side, the head of Ivory Coast's government armed forces pledged his allegiance to Gbagbo, set to be sworn in on Saturday, saying "we are ready to carry out any mission that he wants to give us".

Residents reported gunfire after nightfall in the Abobo neighbourhood and security forces used teargas to disperse protesting Ouattara supporters there and elsewhere in the main city of Abidjan. A Reuters reporter saw the Republican Guard deployed in the town centre around Gbagbo's palace.

"I congratulate Alassane Ouattara on his victory in Cote d'Ivoire's November 28 elections," U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday. "The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions."

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon, West African regional bloc ECOWAS, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy whose country is the former coloial power in Ivory Coast also said they recognised Ouattara as the winner.

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Earlier, Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council -- led by a staunch Gbagbo ally -- upheld the incumbent's complaints that the vote had been rigged by pro-Ouattara rebels in the north and declared him the re-elected president with 51 percent.

A Gbagbo adviser accused the United Nations of meddling in Ivory Coast's internal affairs and threatened to expel the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The local U.N. mission is required under existing peace accords to sign off on the outcome before it can be validated.

The international endorsement of Ouattara raises numerous questions about how far the U.N., which has some 10,000 peacekeepers and police in the country, and others are ready to go if Gbagbo insists on remaining in power.

The uncertainty propelled cocoa futures higher, with the March contract ending 36 pounds (${esc.dollar}56.23) higher at 1,959 pounds a tonne. However some analysts suggested the move was overdone and noted that even during the war, cocoa got to world markets.

THREAT OF CONFLICT

In a statement issued from their stronghold in the northern town of Bouake, the rebel group New Forces said they backed Ouattara. Rebels in the north had in principle agreed to disarm as part of the peace process but they remain in control of the north and many have not given up their weapons.

Allies of Ouattara warned earlier of a possible return to war if the Constitutional Council, headed by Gbagbo party ally Paul Yao N'dre, overturned the provisional result.

"If Yao N'Dre does it he will be to blame for the next war in Ivory Coast," Ouattara aide Jeannot Ahoussou said.

"This is typical of Gbagbo ... Unfortunately, it puts the country back into a potential conflict zone," Tara O'Connor of London-based Africa Risk Consulting said of Gbagbo's perceived reluctance to leave office.

O'Connor suggested the United Nations could push for "targeted sanctions" on his leadership -- measures that can include travel bans or foreign-asset freezes on individuals and which have been used on rogue leaders with varying success.

"The next thing will be to watch how many African leaders come out to congratulate Gbagbo on his win," said a diplomat in Abidjan. "Sanctions are definitely on the cards. They could move very quickly."

Ivory Coast's ${esc.dollar}2.3 billion Eurobond <CI049648839=>, a bellwether of recovery hopes for what used to be one of the region's star performing economies, yielded 10.97 percent on Friday, up from pre-vote levels of below 10 percent.

(Additional reporting by Ange Aboa in Bouake and Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Nigel Hunt in London and Richard Valdmanis in Dakar; writing by Richard Valdmanis and Mark John; editing by Michael Roddy)

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