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Ivory Coast’s Ouattara Damps Hopes on Political Crisis

Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara
Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara. Photographer: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Alassane Ouattara damped hopes for a peaceful resolution to Ivory Coast’s political crisis, refusing to enter into talks until incumbent Laurent Gbagbo recognizes him as president.

“I have a whole series of measures ongoing that will make him fall, not like ripe, but like rotten fruit,” Ouattara told reporters yesterday in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

While the United Nations, the U.S. and African leaders recognize Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the Nov. 28 election, Gbagbo has refused to step down, alleging voting fraud in northern states. The army has surrounded the Golf Hotel in Abidjan that Ouattara uses as his headquarters, protected by UN peacekeepers, even after Gbagbo told the West African regional group Ecowas the siege would be lifted.

“Laurent Gbagbo tries to gain time and we know why,” Ouattara said. “It is to import arms, ammunition and mercenaries to continue killing Ivorians.”

Ouattara’s stance and Gbagbo’s attempt to win time showed a solution isn’t on the horizon, said Gilles Yabi, the West African program director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.


“We are still in a deadlock and there is no sign of a solution soon,” Yabi said today in a phone interview from Dakar, Senegal.

While neighboring Ghana recognizes Ouattara’s election victory, it will not contribute troops to any possible military force sent by Ecowas to oust Gbagbo, President John Atta Mills said today.

“I do not think this military option is going to bring peace in Cote d’Ivoire,” Mills told reporters in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “I don’t want to be saddled with problems we cannot solve. We have our own internal problems.”

While a military option is likely to remain a last resort, regional leaders are keen to resolve the impasse, especially Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who wants a breakthrough before facing an election in April, Yabi said.

Ouattara, speaking in a televised interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. yesterday, said he believed an Ecowas intervention will “happen sooner than you think.”


Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, appointed by the African Union to mediate in the impasse, said on Jan. 5 that Gbagbo had agreed to talks without conditions. He also said Gbagbo had lifted the blockade of the Golf Hotel.

Odinga’s comments sparked a rally in the West African nation’s Eurobonds.

The bonds have subsequently reversed those gains, falling 5 percent to 37.75 cents on the dollar from a close of 39.75 cents on Jan. 5, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield on the 2.5 percent bonds due December 2032 climbed 75 basis points to 16.785 percent, the highest since they were issued in April. The bond rebounded today reducing the yield by 28 basis points to 16.503 percent as of 11:53 a.m. in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast missed a $29 million interest payment on the Eurobonds on Dec. 31 and has a 30-day grace period to pay the money.

“We are not faced with a debtor who is refusing to pay,” Thierry Desjardins, the chairman of the London Club group of commercial bank creditors, said by phone from Paris yesterday. “We’re faced with a complicated political situation which needs to be resolved. People understand that.”

Cocoa Rallies

Meanwhile, the price of cocoa, about a third of which globally comes from Ivory Coast, today gained for the first day in four, adding 5 pounds or 0.3 percent to reach 1,929 pounds ($2,984) per metric ton at 12:52 a.m. on London’s Liffe exchange.

The U.S. Treasury Department has barred Americans from conducting financial or commercial transactions with Gbagbo, his wife and three advisers, and may soon seek UN sanctions on them.

The measures imposed yesterday “will isolate him and his inner circle from the world’s financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down,” Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement today.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said “it is time to begin” a serious discussion of imposing UN sanctions on Gbagbo and military and political officials who support him.

Zimbabwe Meeting

Gbagbo sent his ambassador in South Africa to Zimbabwe yesterday in a bid to win support from President Robert Mugabe. The envoy brought a “message of peace, pushing for a quest for the truth” in a meeting with Vice President John Nkomo, said George Charamba, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe presidency.

He said Zimbabwe would follow the position of the AU, which recognizes Ouattara’s vote victory.

Since the election, more than 210 people have been killed, including 14 in the western town of Duekoue this week, according to the UN. About 10,000 people have fled the clashes in the area, seeking refuge in a Catholic mission there.

“The clashes are ethnic and historical,” Juan Luis Cayola, a priest, said by phone yesterday, adding that as many as 70 people were injured. “There is no doubt the political situation has revived the tensions.”

The British and Canadian ambassadors have been asked to leave Ivory Coast in retaliation for the expulsion of the Ivorian ambassadors from London and Ottawa, Ahoua Don Mello, a spokesman for Gbagbo’s government, said on state television yesterday.

The U.K. has recognized Ouattara as “the democratically elected president of Cote d’Ivoire,” the Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement last night.

“It recognizes the legitimacy of statements made by or on behalf of his government. The British government does not accept the validity of statements made by others,” it said.

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