African leaders have met Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo to try and convince him to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara in return for guarantees of ‘safety and security’.

Mr Gbagbo, in power since 2000, has so far refused to concede the 28 November election despite widespread international condemnation and the threat of force to oust him after UN-certified results showed Mr Ouattara won.

Four leaders representing West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) met Mr Gbagbo for several hours before leaving to meet Mr Ouattara in the hotel where he is holed up under guard of UN peacekeepers.

It was the second visit by three west African heads of state - Benin's Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde's Pedro Pires - who met Mr Gbagbo last week.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga joined them today on the AU's behalf.

ECOWAS has said it could use ‘legitimate force’ if Mr Gbagbo refuses to go quietly. Mr Ouattara's rival government has said this is Mr Gbagbo's last chance to leave peacefully and with immunity.

Washington has said it endorses the ECOWAS initiatives and hopes Mr Gbagbo will go soon. However, a senior US official said there seemed to be little hope of a quick resolution.

Mr Gbagbo, who has the backing of the country's top court and the army, has shrugged off pressure to step down and said on state television over the weekend that Mr Ouattara ‘should not count on foreign armies to come and make him president’.

African leaders have nearly all backed Ouattara. However Angola, the only African nation to send an ambassador to Mr Gbagbo's swearing in, accused foreign nations of ‘inciting other countries in the region to start a war’.

The United States and the European Union have imposed a travel ban on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the regional West African central bank have frozen his finances in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.

As the political crisis deepened, Ivory Coast missed a nearly €22.4m interest payment on its €1.7bn Eurobond that was due last Friday. But there is a 30 day grace period.