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Gbagbo hints at possible talks in Ivorian poll row

By on December 11, 2010

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has dismissed talk of a possible resumption of war, and said rival factions should negotiate a solution to a crisis provoked by a row over who won elections on November 28.

The comments, published in the state-run Fraternite Matin newspaper on Friday, are the first signs from Gbagbo that he is ready for talks to end a deadlock after a top legal body named him as president, reversing election commission results that said rival Alassane Ouattara had clearly won the vote.

Both men say they are serving as president, having named prime ministers and their respective governments.

“We hear people say there will be war, that there will be an explosion. There will not be a war here. Things will end up with us sitting down (together),” Gbagbo was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “Let’s sit down and talk. If there is a problem, we will sit down and talk.”

Ouattara has been recognised by world leaders, who have threatened sanctions against Gbagbo and his family, as well as the African Union and regional body ECOWAS, which have since suspended Ivory Coast until Ouattara takes up his post.

The polls were due to help reunite the top cocoa grower, divided since a 2002-3 war. But rebels still running the north, where hundreds of thousands of votes were cancelled by the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council to deliver his victory, have also backed Ouattara, raising fears that war may resume.

DEBT WORRIES

Cocoa prices fell 3.67 percent in London to 1,917 pounds per tonne at 1400 GMT, coming off 4-month highs on supply fears from a country that supplies 40 percent of the market.

The yield on Ivory Coast’s Eurobond, meanwhile, stood near 12 percent, up from 10 percent just after the run-off, on fears the standoff could hurt its ability to meet payments.

The next coupon is due in December.

“It is a fairly small payment, due to the structure of the bond. It’s only 1.25 percent interest … or just below $30 million. The question is: who will actually pay it?” said Andreas Kolbe, emerging market credit strategist at Barclay’s Capital, adding the following payment would be due in June.

“As long as Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) keeps up the payments, the bond won’t drop out of the EM benchmark indices.”

The IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank say they can only work with a U.N.-recognised government, raising the risk that Gbagbo’s staying on would threaten $3 billion in debt relief, with budget support also being cut.

Ouattara’s camp was not immediately available for comment on Gbagbo’s remarks, but it has said previously that it is ready for talks with him, provided that he yields power to Ouattara.

Despite international pressure, Gbagbo retains the support of the military and state media, and controls government buildings

Ouattara has created a base in a lagoon-side hotel protected by U.N. peacekeepers, who have set up generators amid fears of power being cut, and called on civil servants not to go to work.

The usually busy government tower blocks surrounded by palm trees in the once gleaming but increasingly shabby commercial district were largely quiet on Friday.

“Lots of our colleagues have not come to work today,” civil servant Roger Zan told Reuters. “As you can see, there is virtually no activity in the corridors. The civil servants are still afraid.”

Arrivals of cocoa beans at the country’s two main ports have slowed while business leaders have threatened to stop paying taxes until the row over who is in charge is resolved.

The U.N., which received copies of all results and was charged with certifying results under a 2007 deal signed by all sides, has led the international recognition of Ouattara.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered to invite Gbagbo to the White House for talks on his future role in the region if he stepped down, but has not received a response.

Nigeria, currently leading ECOWAS, has dismissed as a bad idea the possibility of a unity government, like those set up after election crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

After talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Nigeria’s foreign minister said leaders in West Africa were ready to back any measures imposed on Gbagbo.

“We will support and the organisation will support … any sanctions regime prescribed by the international community, the U.N., the EU, and the African Union,” Henry Odein Ajumogobia said, according to a transcript of a press conference.

Reuters.

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