WRAPUP 3-W. African bloc threatens force in Ivorian crisis

* Gbagbo given ultimatum to yield to rival or face force

* Gbagbo’s funds targeted as central bank cuts him off

* Gbagbo meeting close cabinet late Friday

* White House says backs ECOWAS role

(Adds White House comments, Gbagbo meeting aides)

By Bate Felix and Camillus Eboh

ABIDJAN/ABUJA, Dec 24 (BestGrowthStock) – West African heads of
state threatened on Friday to use force to oust incumbent Ivory
Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo unless he cedes power to a rival
widely credited with having won a presidential election.

A violent stand-off over the result of the vote has killed
nearly 200 people and threatens to tip the west African state,
the world’s top cocoa producer, back into civil war.

After a meeting in Nigeria to discuss the Ivory Coast
crisis, leaders of the regional bloc ECOWAS said they would send
an envoy to tell Gbagbo, who has been president for a decade,
that he must step down or face “legitimate force”.

A close adviser to Gbagbo told Reuters late on Friday that
he was in a meeting with his cabinet to discuss the bloc’s
decision.

World powers and African states have heaped political and
financial pressure on Gbagbo to relinquish power after the Nov.
28 vote in which electoral commission results showed he lost to
rival Alassane Ouattara.

“In the event that Mr Gbagbo fails to yield this imputable
demand of ECOWAS (to stand down), the community will be left
with no choice but to take other measures, including legitimate
force,” a communique released by ECOWAS said.

The bloc also said it would convene a meeting of member
states’ defence chiefs of staff to plan for potential action,
should Gbagbo not bow out.

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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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The United States and European Union have imposed travel
sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank
and the West African central bank have cut off his funding in an
attempt to pressure him to step down.

“The United States strongly supports the role that ECOWAS is
playing to ensure that the legitimate results of Cote D’Ivoire’s
election are respected, and former President Gbagbo stands
down,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes
said.

But Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving in. He 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 brief gun
battles between government soldiers loyal to Gbagbo and rebels
who now back Ouattara.

The U.N. Human Rights Council issued a declaration,
initiated by African member states, condemning rights violations
in Ivory Coast and called for reconciliation to avert civil war.

The impasse between Gbagbo and Ouattara has caused the
deaths of more than 170 people, according to the council.

MONEY CRUNCH

Gbagbo also 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.

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

Ahoua Don Mello, spokesman for Gbagbo’s government, said on
state television on Friday that the decision to recognise
Ouattara’s authority was illegal and could have severe
consequences for the monetary union.

On Wednesday, the World Bank decided to freeze some $800
million in committed financing, strengthening expectations that
Gbagbo may soon struggle to pay wages — including to troops.

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

Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion bond (XS0496488395=R: ) due in 2032
fell to a record low on Thursday as investors worried that the
country would not meet a $30 million bond payment on Dec. 31.

The turmoil in Ivory Coast has pushed cocoa prices up to
recent four-month highs, disrupting export registrations and
raising the possibility that fighting could block transport and
shipping.

RISK OF WAR

Charles Ble Goude, leader of the powerful pro-Gbagbo “Young
Patriots” movement, said earlier on Friday that sending in a
military intervention force could rekindle war in Ivory Coast,
which is still partitioned from a 2002-03 civil conflict.

“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.

In New York, the U.N. General Assembly recognised Ouattara
by unanimously deciding that the list of diplomats he submitted
to the world body be recognised as the sole official
representatives of Ivory Coast.

That appeared to bolster Ouattara’s claim to be the
legitimate leader of Ivory Coast and deepened the isolation of
Gbagbo, U.N. diplomats told Reuters.

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

Deteriorating security in the former French colony led
France this week to urge its 13,000 citizens there to leave.

The Dutch Defence Ministry said on Friday it was sending a
warship to Ivory Coast that could be used to help evacuate
European expatriates if violence escalates.

(Additional reporting by Afolabi Sotunde in Abuja; Joe Brock
in Lagos; Ange Aboa in Abidjan and Alister Bull in Honolulu;
writing by Bate Felix and Richard Valdmanis; editing by Angus
MacSwan)

WRAPUP 3-W. African bloc threatens force in Ivorian crisis