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Gbagbo’s funds cut as Ivorian standoff deepens

By on December 24, 2010

Incumbent Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo faces a cash crunch that could make it hard for him to continue paying the wages of soldiers who back him, after the West African regional central bank cut his access to funds.

The United Nations General Assembly, adding to international pressure on Gbagbo to concede defeat in a November 28 election, recognised challenger Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast’s legitimate president.

Heads of state of the West African regional body ECOWAS will hold an emergency meeting in Abuja on Friday, the second in two weeks, to discuss the crisis in the world’s top cocoa producing nation.

Most Ivory Coast newspapers on Friday said the country was keenly waiting the outcome of the meeting and some said the heads of states could decide on whether to send in the bloc’s intervention force, ECOMOG. ECOWAS officials have declined comment ahead of the meeting.

Ouattara’s prime minister said this week the international community should consider using force to oust Gbagbo.

Charles Ble Goude, leader of the powerful pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriots” movement, warned that sending a military force could lead to renewed war in Ivory Coast.

“In a union such as ECOWAS, when one country is in difficulties, you don’t come and start a war in that country, but try to help find a solution. I don’t know what would be the objective of an intervention force. Kill Ivorians?,” Ble Goude said in an interview on RFI radio.

The standoff between the two presidential claimants has caused the deaths of more than 170 people, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which condemned what it said was evidence of human rights violations.

FINANCIAL SQUEEZE

Ministers from the Central Bank of the West African Economic and Monetary Union said late on Thursday that the bank would no longer recognize Gbagbo’s authority as president, and that access to funds would only be given to Ouattara’s “legitimate government”.

The move follows a World Bank decision on Wednesday to freeze some $800 million in committed financing, adding to expectations that Gbagbo may soon struggle to pay wages — including to troops.

Military support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons he is able to defy calls to step down.

Gbagbo’s Finance Minister Desire Dalo did not comment when reached by telephone late on Thursday. A spokesman for Ouattara’s government said the decision by the central bank was “a very important move toward controlling the economic power.”

Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion bond due 2032 fell nearly a point to a record low on Thursday as investors worried that the country would be unable to meet a $30 million bond payment on December 31.

Turmoil in the world’s top cocoa-producing country has also boosted cocoa prices to recent four-month highs, disrupting export registrations and raising the possibility that fighting could block transport and shipping.

The crisis was also taking its toll on gold mining operations in Ivory Coast. Mining company Randgold Resources saw its shares fall sharply in London after it announced that production at its Tongon mine would be adversely affected.

GRAVE BLOCKED

In New York, the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly recognized Ouattara by unanimously deciding that the list of diplomats he submitted to the world body be recognized as the sole official representatives of Ivory Coast at the United Nations.

Thursday’s move will strengthen Ouattara’s claim to be the legitimate leader of Ivory Coast and deepen the isolation of Gbagbo, who has few supporters across the international community, U.N. diplomats told Reuters.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and ECOWAS have all recognised provisional electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner, with Washington and Brussels issuing sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle.

But Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving in to pressure and insists he won the election after the Constitutional Court, which is headed by one of his allies, threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.

The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and rebels who now back Ouattara. Residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.

A statement issued by the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast on Thursday said that masked supporters of Gbagbo armed with rocket launchers have been blocking a road to Anyama, around N’Dotre, which it said is “a village outside Abidjan where allegations point to existence of a mass grave”.

The U.N. Human Right Council issued a declaration of condemnation on the human rights violations and called for reconciliation to prevent civil war.

Reuters.

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