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EU to tighten sanctions on I.Coast’s Gbagbo

By on December 30, 2010

The European Union will tighten sanctions against incumbent Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo next month, expanding a list of his supporters to be targeted after a disputed election, diplomats said on Wednesday.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also said three West African leaders would return to Abidjan for more talks with Gbagbo after the regional grouping ECOWAS demanded he accept he lost last month’s presidential election, or be removed by force.

The November 28 election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, after a 2002-03 civil war. But a dispute over the results has provoked clashes that have killed more than 170 people and threatens to restart open conflict.

Meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, representatives of the 27 EU governments agreed to impose additional measures on Gbagbo’s supporters and increase the number of people targeted with travel restrictions and a freeze of their assets to 61 from 19.

“There was agreement in the hope of introducing the new measures in early January,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

The EU first imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his backers earlier in December to force him into relinquishing power after the election that world powers and African neighbours say he lost to his rival candidate, Alassane Ouattara.

In Abuja, Jonathan said the three presidents would return to Ivory Coast after they had met Gbagbo on Tuesday.

“They are going back on the 3rd of January and when they come back from this second visit the outcome will determine the next action,” Jonathan, who is also the chairman of the ECOWAS regional grouping, told reporters.

He was speaking after a briefing with the presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde, who delivered the ECOWAS ultimatum to Gbagbo. The grouping has threatened to use “legitimate force” if Gbagbo does not step aside but Ivorian military leaders have said they remain loyal to him.

The three presidents agreed to give Gbagbo a week to consider the message, officials in Cape Verde told Reuters on Wednesday.

Provisional election commission results showed Ouattara with an eight percentage-point victory but the figures were quickly overturned by the country’s top court, run by a Gbagbo ally, over allegations of fraud.

The United States has also imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut his financing in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.

In Washington, the State Department said a small U.S. military team is in Abidjan studying the possibility of evacuating U.S. citizens should the unrest worsen.

Jonathan said he was hopeful intervention would not be needed. “Whenever there is a disagreement it is dialogue that resolves it. Dialogue is on,” he said.

ECOWAS member state Gambia expressed doubts on Wednesday about the ultimatum. “The Gambia Government does not subscribe to the use of force (…) to solve disputed election results as that is interfering in the internal affairs of a member state which is illegal under both the ECOWAS and AU (African Union) Charters,” a statement read over state television said.

The turmoil has pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs amid fears it could eventually disrupt exports. Ivory Coast’s Eurobond, meanwhile, hit a record low last week on concern that the country would not meet a nearly $30 million bond payment due on December 31.

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Gbagbo has shown no sign of giving in to the pressure and has accused former colonial power France of orchestrating an international plot alongside the United States to get him out. The French government dismissed the allegations as groundless.

In an attempt to raise pressure on Gbagbo, EU countries have agreed to recognise only ambassadors appointed by Ouattara, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday. Gbagbo’s government had said on Tuesday it would cut diplomatic ties with countries which recognise ambassadors named by Ouattara.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff have eased tensions on the streets of Abidjan in recent days, with both Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters remaining mostly calm.

A planned mass rally on Wednesday by the powerful pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriot” movement, led by firebrand Charles Ble Goude who is also youth minister in the Gbagbo government, was suspended to allow for negotiations.

Goude renewed a threat, however, to take over Abidjan’s Golf Hotel where Ouattara and his Prime Minister Guillaume Soro have made their base, protected by a ring of UN peacekeepers.

“I give it until January 1 before my people are celebrating Soro’s departure from the Golf Hotel. I ask the young people of Ivory Coast to get ready,” he said.

Ivory Coast cocoa output, which makes up about a third of world supply, has been running near even with last year in a sign the political upheaval has not significantly affected growing or trucking operations.

Reuters.

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