I’m interested in the Ivory Coast story because of a) the past inability for a peaceful transition of power on the African continent, which is a serious foreign policy problem, and b) the potential for mass death. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the UN, raises the threat of the second.

The United Nations has warned supporters of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo that they would reignite a civil war if they go ahead with a threatened attack on the hotel in Abidjan where his rival is based.

The UN’s Martin Nesirky said the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was alarmed by the comments and believed that an attack could reignite civil war.

Ban warned Gbagbo’s supporters to “refrain from such dangerous irresponsible action” at the Golf Hotel which is protected by 800 blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers and hundreds of rebels loyal to Ouattarato.

Charles Ble Goude, a fiery supporter of Gbagbo, reportedly said Ouattara and his supporters “have until 1 January 2011 to pack their bags and leave the Golf Hotel”.

I checked the calendar and that’s tomorrow. Ouattara isn’t planning on leaving.

One UN peacekeeper has already been wounded by a machete attack. And there are rumors of Gbagbo forces abducting Ouattara supporters and dumping them in mass graves. Gbagbo denies this.

The Brits stepped up yesterday, with foreign secretary William Hague giving his support to an ECOWAS (Economic Organization of West African States) military intervention, with the endorsement of the UN, to remove Gbagbo from power. ECOWAS has hinted at that but has so far declined to move forward. West African leaders will return to Ivory Coast on Monday.

CNN has a bit more. Things are getting tense.

UPDATE: Alassane Ouattara has given Gbagbo until midnight to step down, or he “will regretfully have to think about other measures.” As he’s holed up in a hotel under UN protection, I can’t imagine what those other measures will be, but this is a prelude to a declaration of civil war.

ECOWAS has reiterated its threat to remove Gbagbo by force, if negotiations fail.