EU freezes Ivory Coast port and bank assets

  • World
  • Saturday, 15 Jan 2011

ABIDJAN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union raised pressure on Saturday on Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo to step down, freezing assets of the West African country's cocoa-exporting ports, its state oil firm and three banks.

The latest move in international efforts to persuade Gbagbo to quit after an election he is widely held to have lost, the EU sanctions list included the state refiner SIR, the rubber sector body, SOGEPE energy utility and national broadcaster RTI.

Gbagbo's camp brushed off the tighter sanctions and said he still had access to accounts at West Africa's central bank, even though regional leaders recognise his election rival Alassane Ouattara as legitimate leader of the world's top cocoa grower.

"Westerners often make this mistake. The world does not stop at Europe, it does not stop at America," Gbagbo's government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said. "Africa has evolved. We can dispense with France, we can go elsewhere," he added, referring to Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler.

The United Nations human rights office said at least 247 people have been killed in violence in Ivory Coast since the disputed presidential election on Nov. 28, which risks sending the country back into civil war.

The EU's Official Journal said the firms and utilities are "helping to fund the illegitimate government" of Gbagbo.

The EU first imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his backers in December after the election that world powers and African neighbours say Ouattara won. Gbagbo cites a Constitutional Council ruling that the results were rigged against him.

Broadcaster RTI was guilty of "public incitement to hatred and violence through participation in disinformation campaigns in connection with the 2010 presidential election", the EU Journal said.

"All funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by the natural or legal persons, entities and bodies ... shall be frozen," the journal said. The measures also ban funds being made available to listed people and bodies.

They also maintain an asset freeze and visa ban on Gbagbo and 84 of his supporters, including Gbagbo's wife, ministers, army chiefs, security staff and newspaper editors.

An EU spokesman said it was too early to gauge how Ivory Coast's economic activity would be affected by the sanctions.

Analysts say that the financial squeeze might be the best way to oust Gbagbo given the limited prospect of military intervention, but he could hold out for several months before he feels the pinch.

Ouattara complained on Friday that Gbagbo was still receiving substantial funds daily from the Senegal-based BCEAO regional central bank. Mello confirmed this was true and said no one could stop them.

West Africa's monetary union noted recognition of Ouattara by world leaders on Dec. 23 and said it would deal only with legitimate governments, which many took to mean it would freeze Gbagbo out of the state accounts there.

"It is Ivory Coast's wealth. No one can ban Ivory Coast from using its own resources," Mello said. "We are 40 percent of the region's economy and an even bigger share of its money supply. If they exclude us, it is the central bank that will fall."

(Writing by Tim Cocks and Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck; editing by David Stamp)

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