tp-ivory-coast-cp-99699711

Alassane Ouattara is guarded by a security agent Thursday as he leaves a news conference at the Golf Hotel in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan. ((Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press))

Canada has refused to recognize a request from Ivory Coast's incumbent president that the Canadian ambassador leave the country.

"Canada has not received a request from the legitimate government of Mr. Alassane Ouattara to terminate our ambassador's functions," Lynn Meahan, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said in a statement.

"Canada does not recognize Laurent Gbagbo's claim to government. As such his request is illegitimate. We will continue to urge Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to President Ouattara who has been recognized internationally as the legitimate president of Cote D'Ivoire following the November 28 elections," the statement said.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, a confidant of Gbagbo and the president of his political party, said Thursday the ambassadors of Canada and Britain were asked to leave just as Ottawa and London had asked the Ivory Coast's ambassadors to leave Canada and Britain.

Meanwhile, Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election, is asking for special forces to launch a commando operation to remove Gbagbo.

Hunkered inside a hotel in Abidjan guarded by UN peacekeepers, Ouattara told The Associated Press on Thursday that Gbagbo would try to flee if the regional bloc of West African states, the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS, sent in troops to oust him.

"I know Mr. Gbagbo," Ouattara said on the lawn of the hotel. "If he sees that ECOWAS troops are coming to capture him, believe me he will start running away. I know him well. He does not have the courage to face those type of situations."

While the UN and other world powers recognize Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential runoff, Gbagbo has refused to step down, insisting he was the victor. The political standoff has paralyzed the once-prosperous country, the world's largest cocoa producer, and tensions over the outcome have sparked violence, with the UN confirming at least 173 deaths.

While ECOWAS has threatened military action against Gbagbo, African leaders in recent days have shied away from making a commitment, fearing mass casualties and a possible return to civil war in the nation that was divided by such bloodshed after a one-year civil war in 2003.

Ivory Coast's civil war divided the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south, and the November election was intended to help reunify the nation.

At a pro-Gbagbo rally, one of his closest associates warned on Wednesday that any attempt to remove the 65-year-old incumbent by force would lead to war.

"We need to avoid that the Third World War begins in Ivory Coast.... No army in the world can come in and remove our president. It's not in Abidjan that such a thing will happen," said Charles Ble Goude, who heads the Young Patriots, a militia-like organization.

Gbagbo came to power in 2000 and ruled during the civil war, then overstayed his legal term, which expired in 2005. He said the country was too unstable to organize an election, and the vote was rescheduled at least six times before it was finally held.

With files from The Associated Press