W.Africa Leaders To Give Gbagbo Ultimatum

Regional and world powers want Gbagbo to cede power to rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara after elections last month provoked a dispute that has killed more than 170 people and threatens to tip the country back into civil war.

Gbagbo’s government has said it would welcome the emissaries — Benin’s Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde — “as brothers and friends and listen to the message they have to convey”.

Provisional elections results from the November 29 poll in the world’s largest cocoa grower showed Ouattara with an eight percentage-point win. But the nation’s top court, run by a Gbagbo ally, overturned the results amid allegations of fraud.

The United States and the European Union have slapped 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.

The standoff turned violent this month after Ouattara supporters tried to seize the state broadcaster’s building and clashed with security forces, killing at least 20 people.

After several days of calm, sporadic gunfire was heard on Tuesday morning in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo, a stronghold of Ouattara supporters. A Reuters witness said police were chasing youths who were trying to set up barricades with burning tyres. It is not known if there are casualties.

Residents and human rights groups have accused pro-Gbagbo gunmen of extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture since the election. The U.N. condemned the violence.

The election was meant to heal the wounds of a 2002-03 civil war that split the country in two, but experts now fear the dispute over the results could reignite conflict.

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