'Ivory Coast invasion to spark civil war'

Ivory Coast's incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo has warned West African leaders that any attempt to overthrow him could trigger another civil war.

"All these countries have citizens in Ivory Coast, and they know if they attack Ivory Coast from the exterior it would become an interior civil war," Gbagbo's spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said on Sunday.

Earlier on Saturday, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened that the community would be "left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force," should the president refuses to step down.

The international community has recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner of last month's presidential election and warned that Gbagbo's remaining in power could plunge Ivory Coast back into civil war.

Gbagbo, however, turned the warnings around, describing them as a "Western plot directed by France."

On Tuesday, three West African presidents will visit Abidjan in a bid to convince the 65-year-old president to step down. Gbagbo, however, has shown no signs that he plans to leave power.

Post-election violence which triggered after the disputed run-off election held nearly a month ago has left at least 173 people dead.

At least 14,000 Ivoirians have also fled the country seeking a safe haven in neighboring Liberia in case a civil war breaks out, the UN refugee agency said.

Both Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara claim to be elected presidents of Ivory Coast.