UPDATE 2-Gbagbo’s funds cut as Ivorian standoff deepens

* West African central bank blocks funds to Gbagbo

* U.N. General Assembly backs Ouattara

* Country awaiting outcome of ECOWAS summit on Friday

(Adds ECOWAS heads of state meeting, details)

By Bate Felix

ABIDJAN, Dec 24 (BestGrowthStock) – 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 Nov. 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.

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For a TAKE A LOOK click on [ID:nCOC754498]

Graphic on Ivory Coast http://link.reuters.com/bef62r

Graphic on Ivorian cocoa http://link.reuters.com/zun53r

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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
Dec. 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
(RRS.L: ) 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.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

UPDATE 2-Gbagbo’s funds cut as Ivorian standoff deepens